For Joe and Leslie Forsythe and the four grandchildren they are raising, the Santa Fund is making their holiday a little brighter.
“This is great and it helps us out a lot,” said Joe Forsythe, a Johnstown resident.
“It’s hard these days to make ends meet, and it’s nice to have a program like this to help out.”
The couple’s grandchildren were among 1,800 youngsters from families facing financial hardships who received Christmas gifts through the program.
Now in its sixth year, The Tribune-Democrat’s Santa Fund provides toys for area children age 14 and younger.
Joe Forsythe said it was the first time his family used the program, and they appreciated what they received.
“There are a lot of people in the same boat as us, and it’s great for the community to have people come together and offer this to the kids,” he said.
Dozens of volunteers handed out presents Wednesday at the Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania office on Locust Street in downtown Johnstown.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in need over last year,” said Jessica Pulliam Petrunak, a caseworker with Community Action Partnership of Cambria County.
“The economy, of course, is a factor, but I think because of word of mouth and the Santa Fund Facebook page more people are taking part who might not have known about it.”
In its first year, the fund helped roughly 500 children. That number has more than tripled in six years.
“I have seen it grow every year,” Pulliam Petrunak said.
“People are thankful because, for some, this might be the only gift their kids get, so it gives people the ability to give kids a nice Christmas.”
This year, more than $35,000 was collected through donations and the Santa Fund Soccer Classic, which featured all-star players from local high schools.
“We saw a significant increase in need this year, but we also had an increase in donations,” said Katrina Perkosky, general manager of creative services with The Tribune-Democrat.
“It’s heartwarming to see the community support such a good cause because everyone wants to see needy kids have a good Christmas.”
All of the toys were purchased at a discount at Boscov’s department store in The Galleria mall in Richland Township.
Karen Miller of Johnstown was getting gifts for her two children.
“This is my second year coming, and it’s really nice they can do this for the community,” she said.
The Santa Fund has allowed Miller to add a few more gifts under the tree this year.
“The toys they get are nice and the kids enjoy them,” she said.
A key partner in the effort is Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, where the fund is managed.
Other agencies involved include Community Action Partnership of Cambria County, the Alternative Community Resource Program’s Family Center, AmeriCorps, United Way and Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania.
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