A present on your birthday, a gift on Valentine’s Day and a backpack on your first day of school. These are annual tokens that most children take for granted. But for those kids living with their mothers in domestic violence shelters, they are not things you can count on.
But Erica Fisher and Melanie Neumann are looking to change that through their Santa Monica-based charity, Present Now.
Founded in 2012 by Fisher and Neumann, Present Now is a nonprofit organization that gives care packages of necessities and specialty items to babies, children and teens who are entering and living in transitional and crisis domestic violence shelters. The gifts include Valentine’s Day presents, gifts such as electronic devices for learning and fun; birthday presents, including new clothing, toys and restaurant gift cards; and backpacks full of school supplies for the fall. Present Now currently serves 13 shelters across Los Angeles County, Orange County, Ventura County and Palm Springs.
Fisher and Neumann first met through their children’s preschool and became fast friends. The two had different backgrounds, Fisher in social work and Neumann in fundraising, but a similar desire to start a project of their very own.
“We started just doing research,” Fisher said. “Researching different populations in Los Angeles for moms and children of domestic abuse. Children that are victims of domestic violence. What we specifically wanted to do was, we wanted it to be a charity that gave, not a large amount of gifts, but smaller, more personalized gifts.”
Fisher said that last year their Valentine’s Day presents were LeapFrogs and iPod nanos and that this year they hope to give smart watches to the different age groups.
“Our gifts that we give are very personalized,” Neumann said. “Each gift we give is in a white box with a purple ribbon with the name of the child on it. They’re gifts that these kids can take with them when they leave [the shelters].”
According to Neumann, Present Now has given out over 800 gifts since its inception and their goal for this year is to be able to give out 500.
“There are so many amazing charities giving out so many amazing things out there,” she said. “But I think what differentiates us is the personalization for what we give to each child. 500 gifts may not seem like a lot, but the attention to detail is what we bring.”
Fisher said the reason they chose to focus on the children of domestic violence for their charity is “sort of a double whammy,” as the children are both in need of these items, and are also not given the same attention in these situations as their mothers.
“These children are taken with the moms [to the shelters], and most of the services are geared toward the mother,” Fisher said. “We sort of relate to the children as the silent survivors. They are escaping danger, completely anonymous. You never see their face. And we don’t connect with them. We don’t see them when we give the gifts. And that is to protect them, to keep them safe. We were really touched and taken by that, and felt it was a population that was completely overlooked. So that is absolutely one of the reasons why, when we were doing the initial research, why this spoke to us.”
Last week, Present Now exceeded its record for fundraising at its annual Present Now in Palm Springs event, bringing in $130,000 from 135 participants to support its program.
The event, a women’s getaway at the Palm Springs Riviera held Jan. 23-24, featured a poolside trunk show of designer goods, cocktails and dinner, DJ, a performance by comedian Stephanie Blum, and yoga and pilates with instructor Brianna Masson. Throughout the event, Present Now offered ways that attendees could contribute.
“During our dinner we pitched the room asking who would like to become a Presence of Love Ambassador and donate $250 to sponsor a child on Valentine’s Day. We had 32 women participate,” Neumann said. “The attendees truly care about the children we serve, and their generosity was amazing.”
Silent auction items were donated by local Santa Monica and Westside businesses, including SoulCycle, Savannah Boutique on Montana Avenue and Stephanie Grace Designs.
Fisher said Present Now’s hope for the future is to continue to expand the program and partner with more shelters as they branch out farther and farther from Los Angeles, hoping to one day cover all of California.
“We want to be able to affect the lives of more children,” Fisher said. “It is a lofty goal of ours, but it’s there, off in the distance for us.”
For a detailed description of the Presents Program and the shelters Present Now supports, or to make a donation, visit www.presentnow.org.