Chip Minemyer: Still helping Santa brighten the holidays

Nov. 18—Based on her work helping families connect with services through the Community Action Partnership in Cresson, Chris Kunrod observed:

"This year, there doesn't seem to be as many options as there used to be."

Kunrod said that perspective was echoed by a local mom who came into her office on a recent morning.

"She said that a lot of the places she would seek help in the past aren't there this year," said Kunrod, who works with CAP's Early Childhood Programs — including Head Start, Early Head Start, Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP).

"We're always looking for support for our families here," she said. "It's concerning that we're seeing this."

The quest to help her clients brought Kunrod to The Tribune-Democrat's Santa Fund — which has been providing Christmas gifts for area children for 16 years.

Thanks to the generous private donations of area organizations and numerous individuals — we're listing them and thanking them in advertisements in the newspaper — we'll once again be helping to make the season brighter for families facing financial hardship.

In addition to Community Action Partnership of Cambria and Somerset counties, we draw applicants through agencies such as Beginnings Inc., the Alternative Community Resource Program and the United Way of the Laurel Highlands — and local schools.

The fund is housed at the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, and gifts are purchased at Boscov's department store at The Johnstown Galleria. Boscov's coordinates the gifts and offers them at a retail discount — helping make sure the Santa Fund is both benevolent and efficient.

Volunteers from local Boy and Girl Scout troops and Greater Johnstown High School will help sort and distribute gifts at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.

The distribution will take place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14, for families that have been signed up in advance.

Rosalyn Brandon of Greater Johnstown School District has been a key volunteer with the Santa Fund program since the beginning 16 years ago.

She records and sorts the applications — to make sure Boscov's knows how many gifts we need to purchase for hundreds of area girls and boys up to age 12.

Looking at her latest spreadsheet, she remarked: "There are a couple on here that have never been on here, and I'm recognizing a lot of regulars that we've been having over the years."

Brandon sorts out duplicate applications — perhaps submitted by different agencies — and reports seeing evidence of Johnstown's transient populations: Individuals with local addresses but phone numbers from neighboring states or other areas of Pennsylvania.

On some of the applications, individuals have shared why they are seeking help during the holidays.

—Out of work, or working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

—Burdened by steep medical costs.

—Deciding between food on the table or gifts under the tree.

And occasionally there's a serious heartbreaker, such as one application for a young boy that noted: "Mother is in jail."

That boy will have a gift this year thanks to donors who build the Santa Fund with their financial contributions — and the many volunteers who make it all happen.

It's the spirit of Christmas in motion — good will to others, giving and working to make sure children experience the magic of the holidays.

Even when their own families may be experiencing challenges.

"It's hard times for a lot of people and families," Kunrod said. "But kids at Christmas — that really has a soft spot for me."

Yes — for all of us at the Santa Fund.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Chip Minemyer is the editor and general manager of The Tribune-Democrat and, GM of The Times-News of Cumberland, Md., and CNHI regional editor for Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina. He can be reached at 814-532-5091. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.