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Making the Holidays Bright

Our Neighbor's Child provides clothes, toys for local families.

It would be hard to imagine a group with a bigger heart than the plucky volunteers of Our Neighbor's Child. They're just regular folks; yet, each year, they pull off a miracle to bring Christmas joy to those who might otherwise have none.

Now in its 16th season, ONC provides Christmas gifts for children in hundreds of local families in need. And the volunteers are living proof that "it's more blessed to give than receive."

"WE EXPECT to help 550 families, including about 1,600 children," said ONC founder and Executive Director Kelly Lavin. And although the project involves lots of work and organization, the approximately 400 volunteers are delighted to take part.

"Almost 80 percent of the volunteer families and companies that helped me last year came back this year," said Tracy McInturff, in charge of clothing requests. "It's the whole, community spirit of helping; people just want to reach out."

Besides that, said Lavin, "It's such a joyful thing. I look at it as a privilege to do something for people here in the community."

A grassroots, nonprofit group comprised of moms, dads and teens, ONC provides new toys and clothing to families in Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton and west of Fair Oaks mall. Most of these families have children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in school.

And ONC's help comes when it's needed most. For parents struggling to put food on the table and keep the electricity on, Christmas presents are a luxury they can't afford. But here's where residents may help.

ONC giving trees are at various churches, schools and businesses (see list). Each contains ornaments with a needed Christmas gift listed on each one. And it's hoped that residents will take these ornaments, buy the gifts requested and bring them back to where they got the ornaments, by Dec. 9, so they may be packaged for Dec. 16 delivery to the families.

Or they may send financial contributions to ONC so it may purchase gifts for the unfulfilled requests. Send checks to Our Neighbor’s Child, P.O. Box 276, Centreville, VA 20120. "Every penny of every donation goes to buy gifts," said Lavin. "Any expenses we have, our founding partners take out of their pockets."

INDIVIDUALS OR companies willing to donate $20 gift cards for clothing or other items may e-mail ONC treasurer Karen Moore at KK1MO@aol.com. Lavin says Target or Best Buy gift cards are big hits with teens.

The community may also help by coming to the ONC toy drive, this Saturday, Dec. 1, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., at the Wal-Mart in Fair Lakes. "Shoppers may get a gift-request ornament off the giving tree inside the store or buy whatever they want and put it in the box outside," said ONC's Kathleen Esposito, heading this part of the effort. "We always need items for older children and teen-agers, such as gift cards, jewelry, CDs, wallets, purses, watches, etc."

Several, local youth groups will be manning the gift-drop box outside the store. They are: Junior Girl Scout Troop 3327 of Virginia Run; eighth-grade CCD students from Corpus Christi Mission in South Riding; Creative Dance Center competition teams; WAGS U-13 Chantilly Hot Spurs girls travel soccer team; Virginia Run Elementary fifth-graders; and Little Rocky Run Boy Scout Troop 1860.

The tree inside Wal-Mart will be up until Dec. 12, so those unable to shop there Saturday may do so later and still help ONC. Esposito's been an ONC volunteer for seven years. "I know the kids really enjoy it, and so do I," she said. "And it's a good way to start the Christmas season."

Lavin was especially pleased because, on Monday, she got to speak to the SGA students at Centreville and Westfield high schools. Both groups bake cookies each year for ONC to give to the families receiving gifts, and they asked Lavin to tell them the program's background.

"They really listened and it became more real to them," she said. They've been such huge helps; what they do is so important. A lot of single moms don't have time to bake cookies for their kids — and the cookies are also a nice way to distract the children while we're handing their gifts to their parents."

As a teen at Fairfax High, Lavin was in SGA, too, so she told the students Monday that, "When they're older and in communities, I hope they'll look at ONC and remember that we were just a bunch a parents who saw a need and filled it. We've figured it out as we've gone along, and we're just fortunate to have groups like theirs and other volunteers who care about the people in their communities."