The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Vision 2013

April 28, 2013

Making a difference: Community benefits from nonprofits


JOHNSTOWN — SOS Secret Santa

The newly formed SOS Secret Santa of Somerset and Surrounding Areas became a registered nonprofit in December and its mission is to deliver smiles and holiday cheer to neighbors in need.

But it is different from organizations that only give toys to children at Christmas in that it includes hospice patients, elderly, disabled, homeless and those who are homebound. It is not income based and considers itself a hardship based organization.

“We want to provide smiles to the elderly man down the street who has money for Christmas but has no family or friends to share it with,” said Ruth Baer, co-founder of the organization. “We want to deliver smiles to those who work day and night but just can’t seem to get ahead or to a young family who are just starting out and live paycheck to paycheck.”

Throughout the year, a group of 35 active volunteers collect used coats, blankets, clothing and toys that are in good condition to be distributed to people over the holidays.

Baer was inspired to start SOS because as a child her family would help people during the holiday season and she wanted to keep the tradition going.

She, along with co-founder Tammy Bailey, created a Facebook page for the group and were overwhelmed at the response from people suggesting individuals and families to help.

“I thought there is no reason why we can’t help more people, and we can do this if everyone is willing to work together,” Baer said. “We’re busy fundraising to help attain the funds to reach our personal goal of touching the lives of 2,013 members of our community this year.”

To help manage incoming donations, SOS established a fund in January through the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies.

There are no paid employees and it relies completely on donations from the community.

Members were out promoting the group at the Meyersdale Maple Festival that was held at the end of March and will be holding a basket party at 1:30 p.m. May 5 at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Somerset.

“All the money we’ve raised so far is through solicitation,” Baer said.

The group meets the first Tuesday of every month at different locations to accommodate more people.

“The community has really stepped up and supported us, and we have more projects in the works for summer,” Baer said.

Up next is to find a “Santa’s Workshop,” a building the organization can call home. Currently, Baer runs the operation from her Somerset home.

“It would be a place to keep donations safe and organized, somewhere where we can collect, sort, wrap and distribute the items,” Baer said.

The goal is to continue to grow the organization and see it go on indefinitely.

“To see it come to where it is now in such a short amount of time tells me we can expand to help more people in Somerset and Cambria counties and even expand farther,” Baer said.

Donations may be made through the Community Foundation at, but online users are asked to note it’s for SOS Secret Santa.

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