Vol 3. Issue 38 / December 13, 2004

Scripps Research Employees Help Families in Need

By Mika Ono

It's tempting to succumb to stress and cynicism in the face of the excesses of the holiday season. The Scripps Research Institute's Bonnie Towle and Kat Occhipinti, however, have found a positive place to put their energy—the Adopt-a-Family program.

The Adopt-a-Family program, now a tradition on the La Jolla campus that stretches back some 17 years, matches Scripps Research employees with families in need. Employees then purchase gifts for the families to brighten their holidays.

"I have food to eat, electricity in my house, and a car to drive," says Towle, an administrative assistant in the Mosier lab, explaining what motivated her to co-found the program. "I don't want to see people go hungry in a city that has so much."

Occhipinti, an administrative assistant in the Theofilopouloslab, adds: "The true spirit of the holidays is recognizing a need and filling it."

Judging from the response, many Scripps Research employees agree with Towle and Occhipinti's approach. This year, institute employees have pledged to assist more than 45 families throughout the San Diego area.

Towle and Occhipinti coordinate these efforts with a number of local aid organizations. St. Vincent de Paul is one. The Julian Sanctuary Battered Women's Shelter is another. Each organization works a little differently.

"Not all organizations have Scripps Research employees deliver gifts directly to the families," says Towle. "For me, however, that's the best part. I'll never forget the look on one little girl's face when we came in the door of her house with presents. She gave us a huge smile and practically levitated off the ground. I left fighting back the tears."

New in the mix this year is a group called Angel Tree, whose mission is to help the children of men and women in prison. Angel Tree provided the names of 12 children whose incarcerated parents had contacted the organization with a holiday wish list for their kids. Seven of these were from three families who lived on one street. Personnel at the institute's General Clinical Research Center adopted all seven. 

Towle and Occhipinti both remark on the generosity of many Scripps Research employees.

"All I have to do is send out an e-mail about a family in need and someone steps up to the plate," says Towle. "And every year there are a few individuals who come forward to offer significant cash donations for food."

Occhipinti adds, "At the beginning of each holiday season, we start off wondering if the program will come together. Every year it exceeds our expectations. The response never ceases to amaze me."

For more information on the Adopt-a-Family program, contact Towle, x4-2167 or e-mail btowle@scripps.edu, or Occhipinti, x4-9662 or e-mail occhip@scripps.edu. Suggestions on aid organizations to work with are welcome.


Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu



Bonnie Towle (left) and Kat Occhipinti organize the Adopt-a-Family program. Photo by Kevin Fung.