Fulfilling children's heartfelt Christmas wishes together
Christmas is approaching earlier than expected, as it does every year. Gradually, many of us feel slightly stressed about organizing Christmas Eve with family and friends and ensuring that all the presents are bought on time. In the familiar Christmas stress, however, we all too often forget what really matters at Christmas, the season of love: Charity and solidarity.
Nadja Meyer, founder and spokeswoman of the non-profit UG Arche Engel explains in the following interview why it is "not about the gift, but rather about giving itself". The trained decorator and interior designer puts her heart into ensuring that one day people will support each other in all ways and that all children's eyes will light up with joy at receiving a gift. Learn how Arche Engel inspired Berlin and Brandenburg to collect the first 350 gifts in 2017 and by 2020 as many as 3,924 gifts for socially disadvantaged children.
EverEstate: How did the Arche Engel originate?
Nadja Meyer: Four years ago, four of us decided that we had to do something. At that time, about six weeks before Christmas, we observed people looking sad and are in a bad mood. Our thought was that we wanted to make a difference and help people. Then we just started and I made calls to find out who we could help. In the process, I came across the Arche and the Hofbräuhaus Berlin, among others, and asked very directly, "What can we do?" - "Collecting gifts would be great," I received as an answer. Thus, we took advantage of the network of companies that existed at that time by organizing the first collection points for gifts. At these collection points, people were to be able to drop off gifts for children of different age groups in order to fulfill their Christmas wishes. In the first year, we set up eight of these collection points and were able to benefit from the reach of our partners, such as Bio Company. During the remaining six weeks until Christmas, we collected around 350 gifts. In the second year, we grew from eight locations to 16 and were able to distribute the gifts at a Christmas dinner for 600 children at the Hofbräuhaus Berlin. In the third year, we created our website, which continues to be a purely voluntary interest group.
How do you achieve your philosophy?
Nadja Meyer: Our basic idea is that we want to go where the problem is and solve it together by mobilizing people locally. Because that's how we create a community that's fun. Who knows, we might even manage to get people smiling at each other on the street again. (laughs) When we received the first gifts, we were faced with the question: Who do we give these gifts to? Not only to the Arche, but also to smaller supporters. The first reactions to my calls were total disbelief and confusion - not infrequently I was asked, "You want to help us?" Even then, I found what was happening in the community very exciting. That makes it all the more important that we do this project and that people believe in the good again. At the moment, we are reducing the locations from 16 to 13 points for logistical reasons, so that the collection points are ideally distributed everywhere in Berlin to Brandenburg. In addition, donated gifts also come by mail, which is really great.
What is the meaning of the name Arche Engel?
Nadja Meyer: One thing led to another: The press discovered us, there was a feature in the Berliner Abendschau and also our first charity Christmas market at Kranzlereck. In fact, the press wrote about us and gave us the name "Arche Engel" - if people say we are the Ark Angels, then we are. (laughs) So the name lives on the community. Of course, we checked if we could use that name - fortunately we did and then the website was designed.
Which families are helped?
Nadja Meyer: It is a local project for families in Berlin and Brandenburg. We want to ensure that help is provided locally by people who are on the ground: People help directly where help is needed. We have also received inquiries as to whether we can also organize help for Leipzig, Dresden and other cities. Of course, this is a growth process that will take place over time. It would be sensational if we can reach even more people through local contacts and if people help each other most of all.
What is your vision for Arche Engel?
Nadja Meyer: To help worldwide. (laughs) I believe it's not about the gift, but the giving itself. For example, if the interior of a kindergarten needs renovation and the necessary money is lacking, it would be wonderful if people helped each other locally and committed themselves to it. It is about thinking of each other and doing good together - this also creates respect for each other. That is the project of the Arche Engel.
How do you make the wishes come true?
Nadja Meyer: We ask the sponsors what they need, and the companies ask what they can do. We then compile the wish list and support the entire process. These wishes are attached to the Christmas trees in the company so that the colleagues can decide on their own which wishes, if any, they would like to fulfill. This includes specific or directional wishes of the children, wishes of the sponsor or collective wishes, e.g. bouncy castles or jungle gyms. Every employee has the opportunity to fulfill these wishes completely voluntarily - there is no obligation with charity. We all want to make a difference together.
How will the gifts be distributed to the children?
Nadja Meyer: On December 16, 2021, logisticians will pick up all the gifts from the collection points, which will then be wrapped at two locations in Berlin and Potsdam on December 17 and 18. After thorough quality control in our warehouses, the gifts are ready to be wrapped. Very important here is the correct labeling of the gifts so we provide the appropriate stickers. This ensures the correct allocation to the respective recipients. The beautifully wrapped gifts will then be distributed on time by Christmas Eve starting Monday, December 20, 2021.
How will Christmas Eve be celebrated at Arche Engel?
Nadja Meyer: Hopefully our big Christmas dinner for all the children can take place at the Hofbräuhaus. Starting at 11 a.m., there will be a fun program for the children and later a rich Christmas dinner, which is also made possible by donations. Afterwards, gifts will be given out according to age: Each child gets a ticket for a gift. We often ask the age again, because for some reason younger children often think that the older ones get "better" gifts. Of course, that's not the case. (laughs) Often the children are speechless with joy. After the big unwrapping of all the presents, our get-together ends around 2 p.m., so all the loved ones spend the rest of Christmas Eve back with their families in the afternoon. That's just wonderful - especially for all the "Christmas grumpies" out there, it's the best cure because we all think Christmas is great.
What is your best memory with Arche Engel?
Nadja Meyer: There is one event that really moved me. At the Hofbräuhaus, a socially disadvantaged family of six visited us and dressed up according to their means - the 14-year-old son's jacket turned out way too big because it was from his grandpa, but that didn't matter. The son got up and put food on his family's plate, completing the Christmas ritual. His family thanked each other and then they ate together. Above all, I was moved by how happily the family sat together. This showed me that it doesn't matter where Christmas takes place or under what circumstances. It doesn't matter whether you're rich or poor: Christmas brings everyone together.
What is your Christmas wish for 2021?
Nadja Meyer: My Christmas wish for 2021 is that the pandemic ends. But regardless of how the current situation develops, I wish for true solidarity. That we think together. If someone can't, we can try to put ourselves in their shoes and understand why that person can't.
How can one support the Arche Engel?
Nadja Meyer: On the one hand, you can support us on a voluntary basis. Here you can easily register on our website under the heading "Projects" on the page Join in and have fun. This also applies to potential corporate collaborations if you would like to implement something charitable in your own company. Our greatest wish is to find companies that would like to accompany us permanently on this path. On the other hand, there are also countless other activities in which everyone can participate: Packing gifts, booth support, Christmas market, logistics or making coffee for everyone. In the future, there will also be a dedicated phone number, which can be found on the website.
Achieving great things together
To support the vision of the Arche Engel together, companies as well as private persons can help in many ways. To describe it with the words of Nadja Meyer: "Each as he can, because many small hands create a whole." If you are feeling the desire to do something good, please feel free to check out the Arche Engel project list. All Arche Engel collection points look forward to your support beginning November 22, 2021. Every bit of help counts, whether it's collecting gifts, wrapping, sorting or logistics. EverEstate is especially happy about this year's realization of the Wishing Trees and wishes you all a reflective Christmas season!
Translated by Marit Hunt