Streetsboro -- As they have for the past nine years, volunteers, Streetsboro families and lots of presents and wrapping paper crowded into St. Joan of Arc's Fr. Stenson Center for Community Christmas, which was spearheaded this year by Pam Danner.
The event this year brought Christmas to about 90 families, including 300 children, who might not otherwise have had much under the tree, according to Danner. And those are just the Streetsboro residents who benefited from Community Christmas' collections.
"After we serve our own, we branch out into the county," said Danner, adding about 150 families and "conservatively" 450 children total will be served by Community Christmas this year, which is close to last year's totals.
While Danner organizes the event, she credits volunteers from the community with making Community Christmas work. She said about 100 volunteers helped on Dec. 13.
"Yesterday, we had about 30 volunteers," she said Dec. 13. Volunteers were needed Dec. 12 to help organize the gifts, which were donated by numerous area business, organizations and individuals. "It's been awesome. It went exceptionally smoothly. It was very peaceful and very enjoyable for everyone who participated, whether they were a shopper or volunteer."
One of the people they helped was Lindsay Ranta, who said she fell on hard times this year working at Woody's B-B-Que which has struggled this year and recently closed. That was compounded by some recent medical problems, she added.
"It was a pretty rough situation for us," she said. "This was an extreme amount of help."
Ranta said her 9-year-old daughter, who was aware Christmas might have been a sparse affair, questioned her when she came home with a carload of presents.
"I just said Santa came to work today," said Ranta. "She totally didn't buy it."
One of the other features of the event is a raffle. Each shopper coming through is given six raffle ticket for a variety of items being raffled off, including four bicycles for kids of differing ages and genders, a hand-made Afghan, an ice cream maker and decorated Christmas tree.
Ranta said she put all her tickets in the bucket for the Christmas tree because she hadn't had a chance to put up her own yet this year. Despite loading the raffle box, she said she didn't win the tree.
"I got a call from the gentleman who walked me through," she said Dec. 14. "I got a Christmas tree anyway. It's amazing. These people are so great."
Some of the groups volunteering on the day of the event included St. Joan of Arc's Altar & Rosary Society; the church's youth group, Chaos; Streetsboro Family Days, Andrews Moving and Storage, students from the Streetsboro High School, a group from Streetsboro United Methodist Church and more, according to Danner.
Chuck Kocisko, Streetsboro Family Days founder, said he's impressed with how smoothly everything goes at the event.
He also said Giant Eagle donated around $500 in fresh fruit and Streetsboro Family Days another $100 worth.
Gift shoppers, who are members of families who have had a difficult time financially providing Christmas this year, arrive and check in with Danner, and a volunteer guides them through rows and rows of gifts for every age and gender, leading them to the areas appropriate for the people on their Christmas list. After the shoppers pick out their gifts, the items are wrapped by volunteers and taken out to their cars.
Marie Sapp was one of those volunteers wrapping presents. She said she's participated in similar events at Ravenna's Center of Hope.
"There's nothing like helping out those who need a little bit of help," said Sapp.
With her was Cecilia Swanson, a seventh-grader at St. Patrick Catholic School in Kent and member of St. Joan of Arc Parish. This was Cecilia's third year volunteering at the event. She wrapped presents her first year, was an elf last year and wrapped presents again this year.
"It's fun [volunteering]," said Cecilia. "You get to help and it brings you closer to your church community and also youth group."
FB: The Gateway News/Bob Gaetjens