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Program provides Christmas for more than 400 kids

Dec. 24, 2009 @ 12:00 AM

SOUTH POINT, Ohio -- The Secret Santa program proved to be a life-changing experience for some of those who gave as well as some of those who received.

The Lawrence County Department of Job and Family Services had to discontinue the program it had overseen for years to provide Christmas gifts for some of the county's less-fortunate residents; but the Lawrence County Young Professionals, a group affiliated with the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce, stepped in and took over the program about two months ago.

The ambitious goal was to come up with $50 for each of 300 local kids -- a lofty goal, especially during a recession.

But in a Christmas miracle of sorts, the group -- with a lot of community support -- was able to do a lot better than that and ended up providing a Christmas for more than 400 kids, said Becca Dingus, one of the volunteers participating in the project.

"I talked to one family that hadn't put up a Christmas tree," Dingus said. "They said they could put up a tree now because they had something to put under it. It was amazing to see all this come together. None of us will be the same. We got a better idea of the need in Lawrence County. It was a community-wide effort. The community support we had was phenomenal."

Todd Fannin, another member of the Young Professionals, said he spent more than 100 hours on the project in the last week or so.

"I'm tired, but I feel really good," Fannin said. "I've never been a part of anything like this before. I can't wait until next Christmas. We couldn't have done it without a number of people in the community coming together."

The gifts were collected and stored at the old South Point Elementary School and were distributed Sunday. The group also gave out 400 vouchers for frozen turkeys Monday. More than 60 bicycles along with other toys, coats, gloves and other items were distributed. "We ended up with more than 4,000 gifts," Fannin said.

"We started wrapping presents at 11 a.m. Saturday and we finished about 3 a.m. Sunday," said Jessica Boston, another member of the Young Professionals group.

"It was very emotional Sunday for us and for them," she said. "Some people started crying. It made us feel that it was all worthwhile. It really made us feel good. I can't believe how it all came together. The community support was unbelievable. There are so many good-hearted people in this world."

"This is something I'll never forget," Boston said. "This is something we want to be part of again. For me, it was almost a life-changing experience. We went above and beyond what we thought we could do. It was a whole Tri-State effort."

Emily Douglas, a Lawrence County native who is affiliated with Grandma's Gifts in Columbus, provided a number of gifts, which Fannin went to Columbus to retrieve. The Transportation Injury Prevention and Safety program donated 64 bicycle helmets for more than five dozen bikes that were donated, some of them from Jeff's Bike Shop in Huntington. BB's Car Club of South point held a toy drive for the project and donated a large number of toys, Dingus said.

The Young Professionals group was formed earlier this year.

"Each of us has a full-time job, but we chose to spend our free time working on Secret Santa because we are passionate about making a difference and helping others," she said. "We enjoyed the sense of community we felt on Sunday and hope to make this an annual program."



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