CRANBERRY TWP — The Grace Community Church teamed up with the Seneca Valley School District in an effort to ensure a merry Christmas for some needy families.
Volunteers with Grace Community in Cranberry provided gifts for about 450 students this holiday season.
The group identified needy students with the help of school officials, who accumulated data on the 13 percent of students in the district who qualified for free or reduced lunches.
The church group then sent out more than 600 postcards to these families alerting them of the gifts program. They received about 170 replies from needy families.
Cindy Zonts, the director of community outreach for the church, said the students each got a small and large gift. They came from Thursday to Saturday with their families to the church, where each student could pick out their own gifts.
In addition, each student got a stocking stuffer full of candy.
Each family also received a $20 grocery store gift card to buy a turkey or ham. In addition, each family will receive other holiday food such as stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables.
Zonts said all of the gifts, money and food given to the families has been donated from the community. She estimated that the church got more than $21,000 in donations to make the program possible.
With the program only in the first year of existence, Zonts said she couldn’t think of a better way to spread holiday cheer than to extend a helping hand to families who otherwise might have a gloomy Christmas.
“We just want to serve our local community,” she said. “We feel like God tells us to do that and we want to reach out and show his life through helping others.”
Zonts helped coordinate the gathering of nearly 1,000 gifts that were distributed. While this toy drive is already over, she said the positive feedback received from the inaugural year likely means the program will return next year.
“We had a family walk in to the church and told us how blown away they were by this,” she said. “We’ve had single parents tell us they can’t pay bills, let alone do Christmas. They say a very big ‘thank you.’”
Linda Andreassi, Seneca Valley’s director of communications, said the school jumped at the opportunity to help its most needy students.
The district has a history of working with community groups to bring services to lower-income students and will continue to do so, Andreassi said.
“We are very fortunate to be surrounded by a giving and caring community who provides much needed support for our families, especially during the holiday season,” she said. “We look forward to continuing these efforts for years to come.”