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Our Neighbor's Child Brings Holiday Joy

One of the neat things about Our Neighbor's Child (ONC) is that its volunteers are so dedicated to making the holidays happy for local families in need that they sign on to help, year after year.

"We have 22 project leaders, and all the same ones returned from last year," said ONC Executive Director Kelly Lavin of Centreville's Hunt Chase community. "That's really a big help to me."

Now in its 13th year, the grassroots bunch of moms, dads and teens comprising this nonprofit group provides new toys and clothing to families in the Centreville, Chantilly and Clifton area.

AND WORKING in tandem with them is Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM), which organizes food-basket deliveries. "Both organizations have the same list of people," said Lavin.

ONC began working on the project in August, meeting with Fairfax County to coordinate its activities with other organizations that also provide holiday assistance. In September, it opened its hotline, 703-766-8175.

"The deadline to request assistance has passed," said Lavin. "However, both WFCM and Our Neighbor's Child will place people on a waiting list and will notify them as soon as resources become available."

With a rising cost of living and a serious lack of affordable housing in Fairfax County, many families here have found themselves in serious financial straits. And when their main concerns are food, clothing and paying the bills, an expensive holiday like Christmas is more than their budgets can bear.

That's why ONC and WFCM provide such invaluable assistance. "Last year, we helped 525 families — including 1,500 children," said Lavin. This year, she expects to help the same amount.

Many local churches have giving trees adorned with "ornaments" containing a child's name, age and Christmas-gift wish, and residents choose an ornament, purchase the gift and give it to ONC to distribute.

Wal-Mart in the Fair Lakes Shopping Center is also participating. On Saturday, Dec. 4, customers may purchase toys for children whose names are on the giving tree inside the store. Then they can take these gifts outside and drop them into the boxes that Boy and Girl Scouts will be manning that day at Wal-Mart's entrance, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

After Thanksgiving and through mid-December, residents may bring donations to Long & Foster, Realtors or to the Sully Station Children's Center at Sully Park and Stone Creek drives in Centreville. "We hope to deliver everything to the families by Dec. 19," said Lavin.

For more information about drop-off sites, e-mail her at KMLAVIN@aol.com. In addition, tax-deductible, monetary contributions may be sent to Our Neighbor's Child at P.O. Box 276, Centreville, VA 20120.

ONC HAS SOME 200 volunteers, and at least 30 of them who are now seniors at Westfield High have been working with the group since they were 4 or 5 years old. As children, they helped sort toys and bake cookies. Now, said Lavin, they do these things as well as "carrying boxes, unloading trucks, making deliveries, putting together new bikes, making ornaments for the giving trees, and using the Internet to make maps for deliveries."

Another of the many valuable members of the ONC team is Virginia Run's Mary Anne Pickett who started Tuesday to print out the first 200 or so labels for the ornaments for the giving trees. "I gather all the information from the families — number of people; where they live; names, sexes and ages of children; and their gift wishes," she explained. "For example, a label might read, 'Kevin, 8, remote-controlled car, family No. 57.'"

That way, recipients' privacy is maintained while shoppers learn what gifts are needed. "Each child gets to list three gifts," said Pickett. And with some 1,500 children receiving three presents each, she has to produce a whopping 4,500 labels.

"We could use donations of labels, and ink for the printer, because all that stuff adds up [financially]," said Pickett. "Our goal is to get the ornaments on the trees by Thanksgiving." For more information or to help, e-mail her at mpic721232@aol.com.

She also provides each family with a sheet listing what their children requested. Said Pickett: "We try to get as close to what they want, as possible." She also gives their addresses to the volunteers who'll use them to make maps for the drivers who'll deliver the presents. "We bulk them by street and community," she said. "For example, there could be 10 families on one street."

Before delivery, all the items are bagged together for each specific family. ONC will be doing this, all day, Tuesday, Dec. 14. "And we need volunteers to help us do it," said Pickett. "An hour or two would be very helpful." To volunteer, e-mail Kathy Sposa at sposafamily@aol.com.

This is Pickett's second year assisting ONC and, although it takes a lot of work, she's delighted to lend a hand. "I thought it was a great organization that Kelly started," she said. "I knew she needed help, and I love to help out."