By Karen Blackledge
The Danville News
DANVILLE — Thelma Stewart looked through items at the annual Community Christmas Tree Program giveaway in search of gifts for her daughter.
“The program really helps. Everything is really nice,” the Danville mother said.
Stewart and 420 families, 10 more families than last year, were helped by the program Friday.
“There are a lot more kids this year — we are helping 272 kids,” said program assistant Holly Greenly. Wilbur “Red” Swank heads the program.
Families received enough food for at least a week, including a chicken, turkey or ham depending upon the size of the family. They also got potatoes, eggs, bread, milk, margarine and nonperishable foods.
They could choose two toys for each child along with clothes.
“We have people who are very appreciative,” said long-time program volunteer Patti Vreeland. Working with the clothing giveaway, she said people favored coats and kids’ clothing.
One woman, who said she is going through a divorce, sought aid through the program for the first time so she could give her grandchildren presents. She was also getting food for the holidays during the distribution in Danville’s ballroom.
Christa Benyo was a first-time volunteer helping to choose toys for families. With her was Emily Artman who has been volunteering with the program for 15 years. “There are so many families who are just so grateful,” said Artman, who along with Benyo, took off work to help.
“There’s no better way to put things in perspective for the holidays than to come here,” Artman said. “It pulls you back. There are so many people in need and so many things you can do.”
“It’s great to see how happy everyone is,” Benyo said.
The entire ballroom was full of racks and racks of clothes, holiday decorative items, nonperishable foods, new toys, bikes and slightly used toys. The stage was festive with a Christmas tree and presents underneath.
Volunteers even gave out wrapping paper and gift bags so people could wrap the presents they chose.
Twelve-year-old Travis Harvey, of Danville, was excused from school so he could help. The sixth-grader helped distribute canned foods.
He said this was his first year at the distribution. Travis’ brother, Nick Harvey, 24, who has volunteered with the program before, was with him.
Some Geisinger Medical Center employees took off work to help. They included Bill Greenly, Bradd Mertz, Kimmer VanGilder and Jim Reichard, who packed meats, eggs, bread, milk and other nonperishables into food boxes.
Some prisoners from the Montour County jail helped with the food distribution and by carrying food boxes to people’s cars.
“We have a lot more volunteers this year. It’s going great,” Holly Greenly said, estimating they had 30 people volunteering. “A lot are new,” she said.
The families, who qualified through Montour County Human Services, were given a time to stop in and pick up their items with the distribution going from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Before that, food boxes were picked up for senior citizens at Danville-area locations, including Heritage Heights and Montour County Housing Authority properties.
Dunkin’ Donuts, Unida Pizza, Whadda Pizza and Jonesy’s Sub Shack donated food for the volunteers.
The public can pick up clothing and used toys from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday in the ballroom on Mill Street.