The holidays are not about the gifts we receive. They are about recognizing the blessings we have and helping others who are not as fortunate. Most of us know the larger, more common organizations around Western New York that raise money for charities around the holidays. Tops Friendly Markets has their "Little Brown Bag of Hope," where people can donate $5 to $20 in food to fill a brown paper grocery bag for families in need.
Colvin Cleaners runs its annual "Coats For Kids" campaign, where they collect suitable, warm winter jackets for toddlers to young adults, as well as hats, scarves, and gloves for families.
However, here in the "City of Good Neighbors," there are many other groups around Western New York that also feel it is a great time to give back. Some can get pretty creative in their efforts.
Most would expect local churches to reach out to those in need during the holidays, and most do. What is interesting is how their efforts differ.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in North Tonawanda, for example, has an "angel tree" set up in the church. The tree has little paper ornaments hanging on it. Members of the congregation take an ornament off the tree, purchase a gift card, put it in a decorated gift card box, and hang it back on the tree with the angel ornament. Gift cards are then distributed by their pastor to those in need.
Eastern Hills Wesleyan holds its annual "Operation Christmas Child" outreach program. OCC is a project originated by Franklin Graham’s international "Samaritan’s Purse" ministry. Since 1993, OCC has collected and delivered more than 135 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 150 countries.
Of course we must mention all the local schools that reach out to those in need.
Williamsville East does an outstanding job running an Annual Thanksgiving Food Drive. Deborah Mahaney, a teacher at the high school, leads the project, promoted by her students in her Youth Leadership class and Student Council.
They run a competition between the grade levels to see who can collect the most food items for the Turkey Basket Project, a food drive that was created 25 years ago by the Amherst Community.
The grade that collects the most wins $200 from Student Council. Each year, Williamsville East collects thousands of food items for those in need.
Churches and schools are not the only ones to get creative in their charitable efforts. Many companies participate in the annual "Santa Crawl," which collects toys for tots as well as monetary donations.
The Body Essential Spa in Williamsville also collects for the Marine Corps "Toys for Tots." Millennium Construction is holding their 20th Annual "Bash For Kids" this year, raising money for local children and families in need.
It seems like everyone is getting in on the giving action. Even a local Christian band, Joyful Noise, is holding a televised Christmas Concert Fundraiser for The Care Project this year.
The Care Project is a local not for profit organization that helps Western New York families with children in long-term medical care with their everyday expenses, such as groceries, gasoline, cafeteria and other incidentals. Joyful Noise will be taping a live Christmas Concert, "A Joyful Christmas," at TCT/WNYB Studio in Orchard Park at 7 p.m. Dec. 15. It will air at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 22. Tickets to the live taping are sold at the door for $10 each. All proceeds will go to The Care Project.
Perhaps the most creative company that raises funds for the holidays is Inner Balance Chiropractic in Amherst. This year Inner Balance is celebrating its 15th year of giving, which is called "Gifts from the Heart," to help Gerard Place.
I sat down with the owner, Dr. Alison Cummings, and asked her about the holiday charitable project and what makes her company different.
Q: What does your company do to help others around the holidays?
A: What started as a pajama drive for Cornerstone Manor years ago has developed into collecting pajamas, toiletries, diapers and other personal care items for Gerard Place. We make it fun and interactive for patients to have an opportunity to donate. We all get involved
We raffle off prizes in exchange for donations, have internal contests such as ugly sweater, holiday spirit, best PJs, best artist and gingerbread decorating, to name a few. We hold the contests among staff for patients to vote on.
For every vote received, whether in the office or on Facebook, Inner Balance Chiropractic donates a dollar. 100 percent of all proceeds goes directly to Gerard Place.
Q: When did you start your holiday giving project?
A: [In] 2003 – the very first year I opened my practice. It was important to me to help women and children in our community.
Q: With so many charities to give to, what made you choose to help women and children specifically?
A. During my senior year at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., I took an English seminar class where I did an internship for the Literacy Agency of Crawford County. I was assigned to tutor a person who was attempting obtain her GED. Little did I know that the person I tutored would leave a legacy and impression upon me forever. The young lady, (let’s call her "Jen") had three small children under age 5, lived in public housing, had no car, and her husband was in jail. Jen found herself in a situation that left her in a "dead end" position. She was advised by Social Services to stay home with her kids and not worry about a job. She had minimal funds, no car, and no job. Even if she obtained a job, she would be unable to get day care for her children. You can see how the vicious cycle begins. So, I was assigned to tutor Jen. Sounds easy, right? Not really. I had to tutor Jen at a public place. How was she going to get there? How was tutoring going to be done with three children? Where she lived offered after-school care but would not care for children as young as hers. So, I asked if I could bring my own baby sitter to the program and tutor her in the back room. They said yes! So my sorority, Alpha Chi Omega at Allegheny College assisted me by volunteering on a weekly basis to baby-sit the kids while I tutored Jen. Whew – we were on our way for Jen to get her GED. When it was time for the exam she had additional hurdles. Her ride that was to take her to the exam bailed on her. We were able to arrange for someone from her church to take her, while myself and five other housemates baby-sat her children for the day. She passed her GED!
It was during that internship that opened my eyes to the vicious cycle. I’m not sure what happened to Jen, as I graduated shortly thereafter, but she left an impression on me forever and this has translated into raising over $20,000 and collecting thousands of donated items such as PJs and toiletries.
Q: What do you employees think?
A: They love it. They get so competitive. The patients love it too.
Q: What feedback have you gotten?
A: We get tons of great feedback. Our patients look forward to this every year. They are always wondering what crazy thing we are going to do next! But honestly, the only feedback that matters to me is what the recipients think. Gerard Place has expressed an insurmountable amount of gratitude. The best part is when they send us pictures and thank-you cards from all the happy kids!
Giving around the holidays can become infectious. It warms a person’s soul. This can be summed up with Cumming’s favorite quote from Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has."
Camryn Clune is a senior at Christian Central Academy.