Volunteers helped Friend Inc. Community Services in Kutztown on Dec. 19 distribute Christmas gifts, turkeys, personal care bags, breakfast bags and holiday boxes with all the fixings for a Christmas meal to Northeast Berks families in need.

“You name it, we’re giving it out,” said Friend Inc. Executive Director Sandra Wise. “It allows them to be able to celebrate the holidays when they might not have been able to. Provide food for them, gifts for the children.”

The gifts were donated by various businesses, churches and individuals. Turkeys were donated by East Penn Manufacturing. The small holiday boxes were donated by Giant. The other holiday boxes were donated by many in the community, including churches, schools, scout troops and many other groups and organizations.

“They are very grateful for what we can give them. We get a lot of ‘thank you’s’ and thank you cards,” said Wise. “It makes an impact on them. Some wouldn’t have anything for the holidays.”

Greeting recipients with smiles and holiday cheer, volunteers helped distribute food and gifts.

“Volunteers from everywhere come to help, some from the school. Volunteers just in the community come to help hand everything out. It’s a community effort really,” said Wise. “A big thank you (to volunteers) for all that you do throughout the year and now. We rely heavily on volunteers throughout the whole year.”

Kutztown resident Carol Osenbach from St. Mary’s Church in Kutztown volunteered to hand out items knitted by parishioners from St. Mary’s Church of Kutztown, St. John’s Lutheran of Fleetwood and St. John’s UCC of Fleetwood. They worked for the past year to knit hats and scarves.

“Happy to do it. Glad it’s a good way to celebrate the holidays and see people who are just so thankful so it feels good to be able to help out and to use your talent to do that. All of the ladies really enjoy it; everyone who did it enjoyed doing it. It’s was lots and lots of people involved,” said Osenbach. “It’s great what they do here at Friend. It’s a lot of work year round which is nice to support the people in the area.”

Volunteers included about 10 Kutztown High School Leo Club members and about five Leo alumni who returned during college winter break to help. The Leo Club has been volunteering during the holiday distribution at Friend for the past three years.

Kutztown High School junior Mackenzie Blatt, a Leo Club member, helped carry food and presents out to people waiting in cars and “doing whatever needs be done to give these people a happy Christmas.”

Blatt said she is always looking for ways to help her community and she feels this is an excellent way to help spread Christmas spirit.

“I always wake up Christmas morning and there are presents everywhere and there are those who are less fortunate than I am,” said Blatt. “Seeing the smiles on people’s faces when you give them the food and presents they need, it’s a present that I don’t deserve.”

Leo Club advisor and Kutztown High teacher Josh Chambers said Friend helps a lot of local families who are in need. He said that especially this time of year, it’s more visible.

“I think for some of them it wouldn’t be a holiday season without this,” said Chambers.

Chambers hopes that if the school continues to bring Leo Club members to volunteer at Friend that the students take the lesson of community service with them into their futures, and continue doing philanthropy.

“I hope that (the students) see that what they’re doing, their efforts have a greater impact on their community members. To me, I feel it must be doing something because we have alumni returning year after year to do this as well,” said Chambers. “I hope that they understand that their actions have immediate consequence, and in this case, a really positive consequence.”

In addition to receiving donations and spreading holiday spirit, he hopes that the families see youth in a positive light.

“I’d like them to know that there are a lot of really good kids, specifically a lot of good kids in Kutztown who do care, who do want to give back to their community,” said Chambers.

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Lisa Mitchell is an editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers, covering news and events in the Northeast Berks County area.

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