Community groups help fill the need for children over the holidays

Children are some of the most vulnerable within a community, and for many the holidays can be a hard time. Shown here, Asta Jackson from Williamsport Area School District takes home food for the weekend. PHOTO PROVIDED

Children are some of the most vulnerable within a community, and for many the holidays can be a hard time. If money for gifts is sparse and there is not enough food to go around, it’s often up to community members to fill the need.  

Many area organizations take the opportunity to ensure that no home is missed by St. Nick, however this often requires help from the community as well. Without community support, there could be no presents, no decorated tree to place the presents under and possibly no steady meals for struggling families.

Donate to decorate 

The Williamsport Area YMCA realized how important a Christmas tree can be to brighten the holidays and each year holds the Decorate December program. 

“The Y is a community-focused organization,” says membership and program director, Michael Davis.

The program asks teams to donate $200 in order to participate and then to use their imagination to decorate the tree. 

“Our Silver Sneakers group does this every year and they love to see completion within the Y with the decorations,” Davis said.

The money raised goes toward youth programs at the YMCA and in the community. The trees are placed in multiple locations throughout the facility, with voting from Dec 5 to 18. Voting is open to anyone.

All trees are real and are donated by local tree farms. Some unusual themes for decorations in the past have been a beach theme and origami. 

Once the best tree has been chosen, the trees and their decorations go to families in need or to organizations such as Family Promise or the American Rescue Workers. The Salvation Army and American Rescue workers help distribute with their trucks. 

While the number of trees has yet to peak 10, this year the Y is aiming for 12, Davis said. 

Wrapped in love

The girls who live at Ashler Manor, a foster home for female teenagers, have a little more to look forward to in this holiday season thanks to the love of a group of women and their dogs.

Gifts for the girls at Ashler Manor foster home sit under a tree a Bible Baptist Church in Huntersville. PHOTO PROVIDED

The ministry, A Reason for Hope, is made up of volunteers who bring their therapy dogs to the foster home to conduct a bible study, play games, give candy and get to know the girls. For the fifth time, they will be giving the teenagers at Ashler Manor a Christmas party and a present. This year it’s a soft and colorful fleece blanket, an event they call “Wrapped in Love.”

“I’m amazed at how sweet and grateful they are. They’re just good girls,” said Jan Barlow, one of the originators of the ministry. 

Most of the blanket donations come from the Bible Baptist Church in Huntersville, where the two founders of A Reason for Hope attend church. People are asked to donate the blanket in a gift bag along with a Christmas card. 

Each blanket is then matched to a girl and her name is put on the gift. The volunteers know the girl’s personalities and try to match the right gift for the right girl, especially because seeing their names on the gift means a lot.

Angel Tree tags highlight the need 

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program has been carrying out their mission to provide a Christmas for those in need for over 35 years. 

Trees are set up in local businesses, such as Walmart, and are decorated with three types of angel tags: girls, boys and senior citizens. 

Tags fill a tree at Walmart with needs for girls, boys and senior citizens. PHOTO PROVIDED

Items are written on these tags that would be suitable for the age. A tag for a boy, aged 3, might say: “Hat, gloves, coloring books, crayons.” A senior citizen’s tag may ask for puzzles or hats and gloves. 

The items on the tag can be purchased and donated, and even one item of the list is beneficial, according to the Salvation Army. 

“The most memorable parent I had was a single mom who was having a really rough year,” said Roselaine Confer, the social service coordinator at the Salvation Army.

“She had come in seeking help for something else. We were able to help her with Christmas presents and food, as well as decorations that had been donated. It is truly gratifying to be able to help, especially around the holidays.”

Over 1,000 children received gifts from the Salvation Army last year. Parents can sign-up their children, ages 0-12, for this program in Nov. and early Dec. and complete the necessary paperwork.

Toys for Tots

A Toys for Tots box sits in Starbucks in Williamsport. ONTHEPULSE

The Williamsport detachment of the Marine Corporation League runs the Toys for Tots program in Lycoming County. Five volunteer organizations help to distribute the toys: The Salvation Army, The American Rescue Workers, The Grace Lutheran Church, The Veterans of All Eras in Montgomery, and The Montgomery Christmas Committee.

The Toys for Tots boxes are distributed to stores, banks and car dealerships. When collected, the toys are divided between the five volunteer organizations. 

The toys are given out by the organizations between Dec. 15-20, or are picked up by parents. Last year, Toys for Tots distributed over 19,000 toys to children in the Lycoming County area. 

Holiday meals 

Food over the holidays is vital, especially for kids who won’t have their meals provided at school. 

The American Rescue Workers will hold a community Christmas meal for community members who would otherwise spend the holiday alone or do not have the ability to prepare a meal can come and share a Christmas meal. 

During the holiday season, children are off from school, and some may miss a steady source of breakfast and lunch. The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank institutes a BackPack program to try and make sure no kid goes hungry. 

The BackPack program is targeted toward children that would receive the discounted, or free, meals during the school time. When school is closed, the kids receive packages of food to take home. 

“As we approach the holiday season, it is important for everyone to know that there are still many families in Central Pennsylvania that are struggling to make ends meet,” said Joe Arthur, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

“We need generous donations from our community to make sure these families are able to share wonderful holiday meals, and that children facing hunger have plenty of nutritious food while they are away from school meals during the holiday vacation.”

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