If you are opening Christmas gifts with your family this morning, you are joined by nearly 1,300 area youngsters whose presents were provided through The Tribune-Democrat Santa Fund.
While the effort is called The Tribune-Democrat Santa Fund, it really is the community’s Santa Fund.
That’s because so many individuals and organizations share in the planning, the fundraising, the coordination of the nominees list and then the buying and distribution of gifts.
And all of those individuals would have no hustling and bustling to do if not for the incredible generosity of the people of this region, who supported the Santa Fund to the tune of nearly$20,000 this year.
From my chair, I have the perspective to proclaim that the Santa Fund is a remarkable, meaningful and ever-growing annual Christmas miracle.
Thanks to all of you who contributed in any way.
And I want to personally thank all of the Santa Fund’s “elves” – those people without whom this effort would fall flat, and never reach the many children in our region whose families are facing hardship during this holiday season.
Those “elves” include:
* Roselyn Brandon of the Alternative Community Resource Program’s Family Center. Roz is a true champion of the Johnstown region, working daily with struggling families. For the Santa Fund, she pulls together the names of nominated children, cross-referencing them by ages, genders and addresses to make the distribution system happen. And a special thanks to ACRP Executive Director Frank Janakovic and Family Center Director Bev Bender, who helped with the planning and supported ACRP’s vital role in the program.
* Dee Dee Bailey and everyone at Boscov’s department store at The Galleria. Dee Dee gets our list of children from Roz, and matches up names with age-appropriate gifts. This process starts weeks before Christmas, as Dee Dee begins setting aside merchandise for the Santa Fund. Then a team of store employees handles the purchasing and preparation of toys – this year more than $25,000 worth! – for transport to downtown Johnstown.
* Frank Hovanec, a press foreman here at The Tribune-Democrat. Frank drove our box truck – normally used to haul huge rolls of newsprint from our warehouse to our Locust Street building – to Boscov’s on a recent afternoon to help move eight pallets full of toys to our sorting and distribution location. Frank pitched in as a team of volunteers unloaded the toys – everything from laptops and Disney play sets to stuffed animals and remote-control helicopters.
* Bethany Winters and all of her helpers at Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania. Each year, the Girl Scouts turn their downtown Johnstown site into Santa’s workshop. It’s there that all of the toys are sorted by age, then paired with children’s names. And families come to the Girl Scouts’ building to pick up the gifts before Christmas. Bethany is joined by an army of staffers, volunteers and Scouts who do this important work.
* Jessica Pulliam Petrunak and Community Action Partnership of Cambria County. Jessica helps plan the timeline and actions of the Santa Fund, and spends countless hours helping to haul, sort and distribute the toys. This year, she developed a new system of matching families with gifts that made the process run efficiently. She also has coordinated with volunteers from the AmeriCorps program.
* Barb Charney at the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. Barb coordinates and tabulates the many donations that pour in during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Barb also provides the newspaper with a list of donors, and we publish those names in thank-you ads throughout the campaign. Without Barb, we’re sunk.
* Mike Kane of the Community Foundation, Brian Vuletich of Greater Johnstown School District and Eric Knopsnyder, multimedia editor here at The Tribune-Democrat. This trio planned and pulled off the first Santa Fund Soccer Classic, a high school all-star event in November that raised more than $6,000 for the fund. Mike is also a key member of the Santa Fund planning committee.
* Bill McKinney, executive director of the United Way of the Laurel Highlands, who helped move toys to the Girl Scouts building. Bill and Mike brought their sons along for much-needed muscle. My wife Amy was also part of that lifting-and-carrying troop.
* All of you who contributed financially to this effort. The fund received donations from individuals, families, organizations and groups of co-workers. We received large donations and smaller donations. And every penny supported the Santa Fund’s mission of helping the kids of our region.
As you can see, the Santa Fund is a complicated machine with many moving parts, each contributing to the overall effort in an important way. Somehow, it works.
Yes, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well. I’ve seen it in action.
Santa’s elves helped to make the holidays brighter for many in our local communities.
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.