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February 2012

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Rising to the Occasion: Federal Court Families Give Back to Their Communities

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Court staff in the Northern District of California make  blankets to send to a local kindergarten.

Court staff in the Northern District of California make blankets to send to a local kindergarten.

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Watch a slideshow of federal court families giving back.

Watch a slideshow of federal court families helping their communities.

As kindergarteners in a San Francisco elementary school snuggle into their blankets at naptime, they might have warm thoughts of . . . . federal court?

For the fifth year in a row, employees of the Northern District of California, San Francisco, have made blankets for a community school in the city's Tenderloin area. The court's goal is to give every child their own blanket.

Court employees are accustomed to helping their colleagues, stepping in to assist with caseloads and give relief after earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and other disasters. But Judiciary employees in federal courts around the country also are proud of their contributions to local causes and to the needy in their communities. They donate their own time outside of work, their money, and even, in one court, used footwear.

A shoes and socks drive in the Northern District of California helped homeless adults in the community.

"We knew that footwear, because of its expense, is a problem for the homeless," said Lynn Fuller,  a court operations analyst. The court collected two large recycling tubs of gently used shoes and other footwear for donation to a local homeless center and employees contributed new socks. "Some people were so anxious to get shoes, they flagged us down as we were rolling the bins down the sidewalk to the shelter," Fuller recounts.

Halfway across the country, at the District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas-Fort Worth area, employees from the court and several federal agencies are helping to fill area food banks in the Feds Feed Families Program.

"Our last food drive was focused on children who miss meals, especially during the summer when school is out," said Clerk of Court Karen Mitchell. "Court employees and others in the Dallas-Fort Worth federal employee community collected seven tons of non-perishable food items. That's a lot of food!"

During the holiday season, court employees give their own time to participate in an annual toy drive. Senior management works weekend shifts distributing the toys from a local warehouse. The court also displays a group of "angels"—the wishes and needs of local children and the elderly hung on an Angel Tree. Employees across the district's 100-county area always give generously.

"It's not easy to find the time to volunteer, especially during the holidays, but we try to focus on a handful of projects each year," said Mitchell. "Unfortunately, there is way more need than we can hope to meet."

The court family in North Dakota knows the importance of a helping hand. "Our area has been hit by horrible floods over the years," said Suzanne Morrison, an Eighth Circuit branch librarian in Fargo, North Dakota. "Each time, people from outside the community helped us recover."

So when a tsunami hit in the Indian Ocean, employees were eager to raise funds for the relief program. They did it with proceeds from an employee-compiledRecipes for Relief cookbook.

"We have chili cook-offs and chocolate chip cookie throw downs all the time, so the cookbook seemed like the natural thing to do," said Morrison. She estimates over 80 percent of the court family gave their spare time, or a recipe, or a donation to help publication. Two-hundred hand-assembled cookbooks sold out in 10 minutes, with another 200 back-ordered.

Most recently, the court continued a holiday tradition with a silent auction of gift baskets put together by the court's units. Begun 19 years ago with 11 baskets, this year the auction featured over 100 baskets with themes such as breakfast, sports, and pets.

"It's the most fun we have all year," said Morrison. "And all the money we contribute goes to benefit local charities."

All federal courts may participate in the Combined Federal Campaign; last year Judiciary employees donated close to $2 million to CFC charities through payroll deductions. That total does not include cash or check contributions by employees. Through the CFC, employees in the Western District of Missouri (Kansas City), donate their time and talents to community activities one Saturday a year. They've helped run youth basketball tournaments, worked on houses that needed repairs, and cleaned up yards.

In addition to CFC, many court employees help with food, blood, and toy drives, contribute clothing, donate to disaster relief funds, run in local races to raise money to cure disease, and give time to charitable organizations. Employees in the Western District of Missouri adopt families for the winter holidays, donating outerwear, clothing, and gifts. In the Southern District of Alabama employees prepare fish fry and barbeque lunches at the Relay for Life, a race to raise funds to fight cancer. This is the third year that staff at the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri have held a holiday party at a local crisis nursery with presents for everyone. "We play games, decorate cookies, and Santa visits," said Clerk of Court Jim Woodward. "For some of the kids, this is the only Christmas they have." For the last eight years, they also have helped build homes for the community through Habitat for Humanity.

"It is our ongoing commitment to improve the lives of inner-city families," said Woodward. "Fifteen or twenty of us volunteer each summer as a team. We help build a house and we get to know the home's future owner. It's time well spent."

Sometimes, the courts turn volunteering into a friendly competition.

The sixth annual Battle of the Badges blood drive was held last month in the Los Angeles area. Groups from the courts, law enforcement agencies, and the fire departments in the Los Angeles area vie to see who can donate the most blood to benefit the American Red Cross.

"During our 2011 drive, district court staff made 51 donations," said Gary Horimoto in the Central District of California. The donations help accident victims, cancer patients, premature babies, burn patients, and others. "The American Red Cross recognized our district's U.S. Probation Office as the Greatest Participation (per capita) Overall Winner," said Horimoto.

Central District of California employees also participate in the annual Food From the Bar Drive to benefit the Los Angeles Regional Food bank. Like the Dallas/Fort Worth drive, the Los Angeles drive takes place in the summer when area children cannot take advantage of school meal programs and food banks typically have leaner supplies. In 2011, district court staff donated over 300 pounds of food and over $500 to the drive.

"It seems the worst tragedies happen to people who are least able to deal with them," Woodward observed. "I'm proud of our court people. They always rise to the occasion. It's part of what we, as public servants, should do."

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