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Helping Others for the Holidays

Committee for Helping Others prepares for another winter.

With the holidays nearing and winter closing in, the Vienna area's primary charity organization is gathering its resources. The Committee for Helping Others (CHO), which serves Vienna, Oakton, Merrifield and Dunn Loring, will be staging its usual Holiday Toy Store and providing holiday dinners for those in need this December.

This is the committee's first winter in permanent digs, at a new location at 133 Park St., N.E., in the office park across from Vienna Presbyterian Church. The church owns the space, and the Toy Store will be held in Vienna Presbyterian, said Carolyn Mysel, CHO's food committee chair.

During the Toy Store, which will be held Saturday, Dec. 16 at Vienna Presbyterian Church, local families that have been placed on CHO's list for the event will be able to browse through the donated toys and pick out gifts for their children. They will also be able to take whatever clothing they might need from the committee's Coat Closet, which is open weekly but is usually held in the CHO's own space across the street. Mysel said the Clothes Closet will be at the church the day of the Toy Store and will be stocked with winter clothing.

Last year, she said, the event provided gifts for more than 200 children, aged infant to 16. The age cap was lowered from 18 last year, said Mysel, because the committee did not have the resources to provide for everyone. "We just have so many kids," she said. For children over 12, gift certificates are provided.

TO BE PLACED on the list for the Toy Store or for a holiday dinner, families with school-aged children are asked to contact their school's social worker, who will relay names to CHO. Social workers must be contacted by Dec. 13, but Mysel said families are encouraged to call as soon as possible. Families without school-aged children can call the CHO holiday hotline at 703-237-6715 and leave a message to be placed on the list for a holiday dinner.

The committee provides the dinners in the form of grocery store gift cards, said Mysel, because many immigrant families do not traditionally eat the usual turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Again, she said, last year's resources were spread thin. "We didn't get enough food certificates last year to even provide the nominal amount, so we had to go into our treasury to buy more," she said.

Nonetheless, she said, CHO helped about 675 people through the holidays last year.

The committee will be taking up a collection for the Toy Store on Friday, Dec. 15 from 9:30 a.m. until noon at Vienna Presbyterian Church. Those who wish to contribute are asked to bring new toys or bikes and coats that are in "very good condition," said Mysel.

TO MAKE A DONATION prior to the collection, or to establish a local business as a drop point for toy donations, Mysel asked that people call her at home at 703-938-7213.

Currently, two businesses are acting as drop points: Tysons Corner Curves at 2070 Chain Bridge Road and Weichert Realtors' Oakton office at 2960 Chain Bridge Road.

Also, she said, if any church group, family or other group would like to "adopt" a family to supply with presents and/or a holiday meal, the committee can arrange for that to happen.

Also, the committee relies on such adoptions, primarily through local churches, to provide Thanksgiving dinners, said Mysel. "We're too small a group. We can't handle two big holidays back-to-back," she said.

In addition to assistance with food and goods, said Mysel, "we're always happy to have volunteers to help us out." Volunteers 17 and older are needed, she said, to help with both the Toy Store setup and distribution.

Throughout the year, CHO provides emergency services including assistance with rent, medical and utility bills; free food, clothing and furniture; transportation to doctors' offices and sponsorship of the Meals on Wheels program. The organization has been serving the community since 1969 and is funded by more than 20 churches, the Town of Vienna, various service and social organizations, local businesses and individual donations.

Mysel emphasized that the people the committee helps live and work locally. "We're not helping people who are living on the street. We're helping people who are working and are having problems," she said.