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ONC: Filling Holiday Dreams

Our Neighbor's Child (ONC) is the grassroots group of local volunteers who, this year, will bring clothing and toys to 550 families in the community, including some 1,600 children.

YET SOMETHING so joyful was actually born out of tragedy — as well as the generous heart of its founder and Executive Director Kelly Lavin. That's because the Christmas season is when her father, Rick Murray, passed away.

"My dad died Dec. 19, 1989, at age 62, and I cried through the next Christmas," she said. "Chris Reidel [former pastor at Centreville United Methodist Church] saw me tearful at services. He also saw me talking to lots of women."

"Meanwhile, his sister was filling food baskets for kids whose parents had nothing to give their children for Christmas," said Lavin. "So Chris said to me, 'You know lots of people; why don't you get involved?' Then his sister told me that, instead of food, people wanted toys for their children."

That surprised her because she figured Fairfax County or some organization "had it covered." But, said Lavin, "Sixteen years ago, we didn't have the population in this end of the county and there wasn't the great need there is now."

So that year, she and her husband Chris and a few of their friends provided toys for 30 children in needy families. The following year, they did the same for 55 children. However, when it grew to 100 children, she said, "We decided we should organize this thing."

Now, some 400 volunteers participate in this huge, nonprofit undertaking, and Lavin does her best to match each one with the portion of the effort that's just right for them. That way, she said, "They'll want to come back each year — and they do." Besides that, said Lavin, "They get as much out of it as the families they help. And it also helps me not dwell on Dec. 19 — I'm too busy."

ONC also delivers two dozen cookies with each family's bag of gifts, and SGA students at Centreville and Westfield high schools are baking lots of them. But since more than 13,000 cookies are needed, ONC could really use the community's help providing them.

"WE'RE HAPPY to have any kind of cookies, in any amount," said cookie-drive organizer Pam Ryan. "Folks just need to drop them off Thursday, Dec. 13, between 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at the Virginia Run Community Center. No special packaging is needed — whatever is easiest." (It's at 15355 Wetherburn Court, off Route 29 and Pleasant Valley Road in Centreville).

Tracy McInturff is in charge of the clothing drive. Now in her seventh year with ONC, she, too, is happy to take part. "Usually a third of the families need clothing, besides toys," she said. "So we handle all their wants and needs, and I take care of their clothing requests."

But before she does, she lines up as many families as possible who'll volunteer to "adopt" a recipient family and shop for its clothing needs. "Then I get the information from the callers about what type of clothing and sizes the families need," explained McInturff. "And I send these requests to the volunteer families, along with the age, size and gender of each request. Then they purchase the clothing and bring it to me."

She appreciates that the Sully Station I Community Center lets ONC sort and tag the clothing there. Businesses are also encouraged to pitch in and Lockheed Martin has done so for the past five years.

"They take 15-20 families each year and have been so generous to us," said McInturff. "Two of their employees, Laura Thoden and Dee Dee Demes, coordinate it and purchase clothing for 40-50 children."

"This time, one family they're helping had a house fire, and Lockheed Martin assured us that they took extra-special care of them," continued McInturff. "Overall, they make sure each child has something really nice to open on Christmas — and always more than what was asked for."

Chantilly Fire Station 15, under commander Mike Ciarrocchi, also opens its heart. "They've taken a family [to help] for years," said McInturff.

This year, a family with six children enclosed a note to ONC saying it doesn't have a table and everyone sits on the floor to eat. McInturff e-mailed the firefighters about this family, and they e-mailed her back.

"THE FIREFIGHTERS said, 'We figured they probably need chairs, too, so we're getting them a table and chairs,'" said McInturff. "And Station 15 is doing this, in addition to clothes and toys."

It's no wonder then, she said, that ONC and all its volunteers have "a passion" for what they're doing "because we're helping other people and pulling the community together — which is what the holidays are about. It wouldn't be Christmas for my family without it; it's such a part of our holiday now."