Although Halloween is just a day away, my mind is on Christmas.
As a child, I was annually caught up in the pre-holiday anticipation about what might be under the tree when the big morning arrived.
I couldn’t tell which year brought which gifts, but along the way I was greeted by a drum set (blue and sparkling), a sled (wood, with black runners), an electric football game (for those who remember) and a T-rex that was taller than me – at least at the time. My own kids could tell similar stories.
I’ve never been in a local home on Christmas morning when a child opens a gift that was there because of The Tribune-Democrat Santa Fund.
But I can imagine the scene – smiles and laughter, perhaps a few tears.
For several weeks, the nominations and donations have been rolling in like letters to the North Pole. The gracious people of this region have already contributed more than $5,000 to the 2011 program.
I am confident that by the Dec. 2 deadline, we’ll have surpassed our annual giving level of more than $20,000.
And, as in years past, the donations range from a few crumpled dollar bills from a woman who was also nominating her grandson to receive a gift, to a $1,000 check from an out-of-state supporter who asked to remain anonymous.
Now in its 5th year, the Santa Fund really is a yearly Christmas miracle.
And each year, the list of children we reach grows.
The recession means more and more people find themselves in challenging situations – downsized and downhearted.
The Alternative Community Resource Program is a key partner in the Santa Fund, reaching out to families through its various initiatives and developing our list of children.
ACRP’s Roselyn Brandon compiles that list, which last year reached a new high of more than 1,100 boys and girls ages 14 and under.
At the rate the forms are arriving this year, we could see another new high.
Beverly Bender, ACRP’s Family Center director, said the need for help is enormous.
“It has grown,” she said at a Santa Fund meeting last week. “A lot of people are out of work.”
Another key partner in this effort is the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, where the Santa Fund is housed and managed.
Executive Director Mike Kane knows that there have been severe cutbacks in government programs that help families with heat and food.
That means those families have even less money for such seemingly frivolous items as toys on Christmas.
“I was asked, ‘Why do you give toys away?’ Well, who else?” Kane said. “At least a family that’s really struggling has that to turn to.
“It’s not just a good thing. It’s something that is genuinely needed.”
Other players in the Santa Fund again this year include AmeriCorps – which provides volunteers; Boscov’s – our exclusive toy supplier; and Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania, where toys are sorted and bagged for distribution.
From Nov. 13 to Dec. 3, you can make a donation to the fund at Boscov’s in-store checkout locations.
The store also helps through deep discounts on toy purchases.
And in 2011, the Santa Fund has another candy-cane twist – showcasing the top high school soccer players from across the region in an event that will bring money to the fund.
The brainchild of Greater Johnstown School District’s Brian Vuletich, the Santa Fund Soccer Classic will be held on Nov. 20 at Trojan Stadium.
Proceeds will go to the Santa Fund, as we celebrate Christmas on the weekend before Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping.
It is our hope that the addition of the soccer classic will allow us to reach even more kids this Christmas.
But every individual contribution matters as much as ever.
Those of you who support the Santa Fund are sharing the spirit of the holiday with hundreds of local children who might otherwise be greeted on Christmas morning by little other than the chill of winter and the harsh reality of their family’s hardship.
We thank you.
And wish you a Merry Christmas.
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.
* Donations to The Tribune-Democrat Santa Fund may be made by clipping coupons from the newspaper and sending contributions to the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, or online at www.cfalleghenies.org.
* A new event – the Santa Fund Soccer Classic – will be played Nov. 20 at Trojan Stadium in Johnstown. Proceeds from the high school all-star games will go to the Santa Fund.