The Berks-Mont News (

Friend Inc., Kutztown, Gift Trees brighten Christmas for nearly 300 children in Northeast Berks County

By Lisa Mitchell, The Kutztown Area Patriot

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nearly 300 children’s Christmas morning will be brighter with a gift from an anonymous community member.
“The program is about people sharing the spirit of Christmas with those less fortunate,” said Friend Inc. Executive Director Sandra Wise about the Friend, Inc. Community Services Christmas Cheer program. “Hundreds of volunteers select names and purchase gifts so there is something for children to open Christmas Day.”
She explained that the program provides gifts and holiday meal fixings to families in need in Northeastern Berks County. Children ages birth to 16 will receive clothing and toys that are on their interest list. This year 298 children will be receiving gifts compared to 253 last year, which is an 18 percent increase.
“Volunteers come from all walks of life in the community: businesses, churches, service clubs, schools, individuals and families,” said Wise.
Vicki Letterman of Fleetwood donated a gift to the program, delivering a Connex set at Firefly Bookstore in Kutztown on Thursday, Dec. 19.
“It helps children in need, which there is plenty of in this area,” said Letterman. “I hope he can have what my children are lucky enough to have.”
Letterman feels it is very important to give at this time of year because there are a lot of children and adults that don’t have what majority of the people do.
Among the volunteers for the Christmas Cheer program were members of Kutztown High School Student Council, who assisted with organizing the distribution of the gifts.
This is Firefly Bookstore’s second year participating, and they have plans on continuing to participate every year.
“The Gift Tree program for children in need is an excellent program. It is a really great way for the community to help out, taking care of our local families who are struggling this season,” said Matthew Williams, Firefly co-owner with owners Rebecca Laincz.
Williams said they spread the word about the gift tree by telling their customers, sending out notices via email, and posting on their Facebook page. Customers were encouraged to choose an ornament on the tree with a child’s name, age and gift of interest, then bring back the gift by Dec. 19.
“We’ve been getting a very good response,” he said, pointing to the nearly bare gift tree on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 19. Later that day, they delivered a stack of gifts for 25 children to Friend. Last year they were able to give gifts to about 50 children.
“I just love giving back to the community,” said Williams. “These are the families that are getting hit the hardest, they are the ones who could use a little bit of extra something to make the season, which can be very stressful for many people, just a little easier.”
His message to the community is to “always be ready to support these kinds of endeavors because it will always come back to support the community as a whole.”
“Firefly is the only retail business with a gift tree,” said Wise. “Having a gift tree in the shop provides an opportunity for customers, who may have never heard of us, to learn about Friend, Inc. Community Services. It reaches new people to join in the spirit of giving at the holidays.”
Wise expressed Friend’s appreciation of all the gifts “that help us make the holidays brighter for our families.”
“The families are thankful for the gifts and food and thank us over and over again for the assistance,” said Wise. “Nothing warms your heart more than knowing you helped make the holidays cheerful for someone less fortunate.”