‘Christmas Is For Kids’
HUGHESVILLE – If it weren’t for the volunteers and members of the Veterans of the Vietnam War, Inc. Post PA-51 in Hughesville, many area children would not be receiving many toys from Santa Claus. For the past twenty three years, these citizens have dedicated the month of December to gathering toys and money for less advantage children and families in the East Lycoming area.
It started as a family affair in 1989 for Connie Jenney and her husband Gary, who is Commander of Post 51. After a few years and with the help of their children and grandchildren, the toy collection blossomed. Soon more space was needed and their Montgomery home was not suitable. John Savoy offered space from his building, the old mill on Railroad Street in Hughesville,
Each year members from the Veterans of The Vietnam War Post 51 volunteer their time to bag, sort and distribute the toys which are stored in part of the building. Jenney said she contacted schools and churches to acquire names of families who could use the extra boost of giving toys to their children. On November 1st she mailed 192 letters with a form to complete and return. In the meantime donated toys for up to age 12 were collected throughout various businesses, schools and community organizations in East Lycoming.
Five years ago, the Toys For Tots, a national program operated through the Marine Corp, contacted Post 51’s ‘Christmas Is For Kids Campaign’, and asked them if they could assist. “This was a great help,” said Commander Jenney. “For they furnished the boxes and helped distribute the toys back to us.” Prior to this, the organization used their own boxes and coin canisters.
The mission for the group is important to keep everything local, within the East Lycoming area. Jenney said, “Often someone would want to make a monetary donation and if it goes to Toys For Tots, then it will be distributed nationally and not come back to us.” He encourages interested citizens to donate to ‘Christmas Is For Kids’ which will then come back to the local area. “It is better to give locally,” he said.
According to the Jenneys the Toys For Tots program works with four organizations in Lycoming County: The American Rescue Workers in Williamsport, The Salvation Army, the Love Center in Jersey Shore and the Christmas Is For Kids campaign in Hughesville which is operated through the Veterans of The Vietnam War, Inc. Post 51.
On Saturday morning, December 15 a long line anxiously awaited to receive their bag of toys made especially to the wishes of their children. ID was required and each participant showed matching numbers and addresses with the forms sent to the the organization. Close to 200 bags were filled. At the end of the line, before leaving the building, parents and grandparents were able to choose five additional small toys for each child from two very large boxes. Jocelyn and Bob McCarty from Muncy said they were able to choose many gifts for their three children. “There was a box for the boys, and one for the girls.”
Volunteers who arrived at 8:30 a.m. were very enthusiastic as they helped families find their bags and sort through the toys. This year many bicycles were donated and smiling faces couldn’t wait to load their cars to take them home. Bob Simmons from the Susquehanna Valley Corvette Club and his wife were also there to help. Close to 30 volunteers came to help. “It takes a team,” said Jenney. More space was needed to accommodate the bikes, so Mike Wahl from Savoy, Inc. donated extra room for the day inside the conveniently located building that was once a flour mill. Ray Falls from Hughesville said he enjoyed playing Santa for the past 12 years while assisting those in line.
It took the group close to a month and a half to bag everything and get it organized. Some of the toys remain from previous years and Connie said they are fortunate to be able to rent the space from the Savoy building for $1200 a year. Some sponsoring organizations assisted after the Jenney’s sent letters to businesses. “We became a 501C3 status,” she added. “Quite often we have to purchase toys at the last minute to cover certain age groups.” The donations help get them started for the following year. “
So far this year 151 bags were filled serving 327 children,” said Connie. “This went over what we did last year.” Her husband Gary said, “Sometimes we see someone with tears in their eyes, then we know we did what the program is all about – what we’re supposed to do – provide a program for needy people.” 149 families and 322 children were served that morning and volunteers remained until 2 p.m. If there is still a dire need before Christmas, Jenney said that Post 51 can make some accommodations by calling 547-2814. “That is, if someone is displaced by fire, devastation or some type of emergency,” added Gary.
Gift cards and monetary donations can be sent to Veterans of The Vietnam War, Inc., Post PA 51, “Christmas Is For Kids”, PO Box 23, Hughesville, PA, 17737. Donations can be made anytime during the year. Post 51 was chartered in 1988 and a monument rests in their honor on Main Street in Hughesville at the Veterans Memorial Park.