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Hope for the holidays: A helping hand for needy families

BY: Jennifer Lysiak, Lancaster Editor | December 27, 2012

LANCASTER- It’s truly a Christmas miracle for those families who need a little extra help this year, because with the help of volunteers and donors, the Lancaster Youth Bureau each Christmas is able to provide toys, food, and clothing to families in need and cares for those otherwise forgotten.

Christmas is a time to think about others besides your family and at this time of year, Karen Schanne, social worker at the Lancaster Youth Bureau, is certainly doing that by spending her time planning and organizing the Christmas Distribution, a program that has run for more than 25 years and has helped a countless number of families.

The distribution was held Tuesday, Dec. 18 and 160 families in the Depew and Lancaster area received a full sized bag of groceries, three to four toys per child, gloves, mittens, and hats, books, and stocking stuffers to help make their Christmas a little brighter.

Schanne said the number of families served compared to last year increased by 15 families so the need is growing.

“We had a great response from the community,” remarked Schanne. “We were able to do two toy pickups with the News Neediest so that's been wonderful and then all the collections that have been done in schools. It has been a combination of our community really coming together and students, local businesses, organizations that contributed to put all of this together.”

Also, after holding the Christmas Tree Contest at the high school about 60 trees, more than half with decorations were donated from the students.

Co-chairs of the Christmas Tree Contest and seniors Marla Nixon and Kristen Borgus were in charge of calling different places to get trees donated at a lower cost.

Nixon explained that once the trees were delivered to the school, they were able to get the different school clubs to sponsor a tree, decorate it, and then the trees were judged. After that, the decorations were taken down from the trees and they were donated to the youth bureau.

“I can't imagine families not having a Christmas tree. It is just awful to think of,” said Borgus.

“We really enjoyed doing this for a great cause,” added Nixon. “It is very self rewarding.”

Schanne said she enjoys organizing the program every year because of the stories that the families come in with.

“We have literally some moms who are so thankful, they're in tears,” said Schanne. “We know it is a very humbling experience for them. They wish their situation was different, but having children you want to give your child the best Christmas that you possibly can so knowing we are a part of that is wonderful.”

Schanne added it is also an opportunity for students to come together and for everybody to work hand and hand.

“It is about the spirit of giving and helping others,” said Schanne. “It makes you appreciate what you're blessed with. If you can reach out and help others, it is a good doing.”

Families also received cookies which were baked by students from the high school. Approximately, 4,000 cookies were baked by the students.

During the morning of the distribution, students from William Street School, the middle school, and high school, as well as faculty, advisors, teachers, administrators, and some retired teachers and nurses came over to the youth bureau to help wrap gifts and fill grocery bags.

In the afternoon, families received their donations and some students helped load trees and carried out donations to their cars.

“The students get to hear first hand from the recipients how it makes them feel,” said Schanne. “So, what's nice about it is they do a lot of fund-raising for us and collecting from different projects and food drives and now they get to see the results of their efforts.”

The Lancaster High School held several fund-raising projects to raise money for the distribution.

Sarah Shiver, senior, organized a coloring contest, which raised about $200.

Shiver explained they sold six different kinds of coloring sheets to students and faculty. The contest was based on creativity, neatness, and uniqueness. After the sheets were submitted, they were graded, and the winners received prizes. All the entries are currently on display at The Erie County Home.

“It is a really good thing when you can give back, because it makes you realize how blessed you are,” said Shiver.

Another fund-raising project held at the school was called Jingle Links, which raised about $300 and roughly $2,200 was raised from Cash for Claus.

Co-Chair and senior Mary Carroll, organized Santa Grams where students and faculty for two weeks had the opportunity to buy a Santa Gram and send a holiday message to someone. The project raised about $200 for the youth bureau.

“Everyone has their own projects going on, but in the end we all come together for one really great thing for our community,” remarked Carroll.

Lastly, President of the high school’s National Honor Society, Carolyn Procknal, senior, said the society sponsored a food drive, donating approximately $1,500 worth of food.

“My favorite part of doing this is when we give the presents and the trees to the families, because they're so thankful, and what I really appreciate about this day in particular is we give our families an entire Christmas,” remarked Procknal. “We give them food, we give them presents, we give them the tree, and stocking stuffers. It is every single thing they would need for Christmas. It is not just one aspect. All these different groups come together to give local families a holiday.”

To learn more about the Lancaster Youth Bureau programs call 683-4444. The youth bureau, located at 200 Oxford Ave., Lancaster, is opened from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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