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Making the Holidays Bright for Needy Children

Our Neighbor’s Child collecting toys, clothing.

Collecting new toys for Our Neighbor’s Child, last year, outside the Fair Lakes Wal-Mart are (from left) Taylor Kim, Brooke Caskey, Brianna Crump, Katie Barta and Cristina Sturniolo. Caskey assisted ONC Executive Director Kelly Lavin, and the others were on the competition team of Creative Dance Center of Chantilly.

Collecting new toys for Our Neighbor’s Child, last year, outside the Fair Lakes Wal-Mart are (from left) Taylor Kim, Brooke Caskey, Brianna Crump, Katie Barta and Cristina Sturniolo. Caskey assisted ONC Executive Director Kelly Lavin, and the others were on the competition team of Creative Dance Center of Chantilly. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.

— For many local families, the holiday season isn’t about Christmas carols and pretty decorations. It’s about worrying how they’ll keep their children warm in the coming winter and explain to them why Santa can’t bring them any presents this year.

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Stone Middle eighth-graders Erin Steen and Patrick Kearney unloaded donated toys, clothes and sports equipment during last year’s ONC collection at their school.

How to Help ONC

  • Visit the web page at www.ourneighorschild.org for up-to-date information, current volunteer opportunities and a link for donations.
  • To “adopt” a child and purchase his or her specific clothing needs, e-mail Stephanie Somers at volunteer@ourneighborschild.org.
  • Groups or businesses still have time to host a giving tree; the link to sign up is on the Web site. ONC will provide ornaments listing a child’s specific gift wish, or organizations may host a general, gift or gift-card collection.
  • Gifts for young teens are particularly needed. Especially popular with teens are iTunes gift cards or Target or Walmart gift cards for clothing that allow them the opportunity to select just the right fit and style.
  • A box of homemade cookies accompanies every ONC gift delivery. More than 20,000 cookies are needed. Anyone wishing to bake cookies for the families should drop them off Thursday, Dec. 13, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at the Virginia Run Community Center, 15355 Wetherburn Court, off Route 29 and Pleasant Valley Road in Centreville. Any type of disposable container is fine; they’ll all be repackaged into assortments. Contact Pam Ryan at volunteer@ourneig... with any questions.
  • Packaging Day is also Dec. 13, when hundreds of volunteers will be needed to help match up each item to the children’s wish lists provided by the recipient parents.
  • Delivery Day is Sunday, Dec. 16, from 1-4 p.m. People interested in volunteering for either packaging or delivery should go to www.ourneighborsc... and click on “Volunteer Needs.”
  • To volunteer for any part of this effort or to reach someone in charge of a particular portion, e-mail volunteer@ourneig... and the e-mail will be redirected to the volunteer Project Leader organizing that event.

Financial contributions are more important than ever this season. These funds are critical to help ONC purchase any remaining gifts that aren’t adopted by a sponsor. Due to the increase in clothing requests this year, that number is expected to be at an all-time high.

Checks payable to Our Neighbor’s Child may be mailed to: Karen Moore, Treasurer, Our Neighbor’s Child, P.O. Box 276, Centreville, VA 20120, or online donations may be made via the “donate now” link on the ONC website, www.ourneighborsc.... One hundred percent of the monetary contributions collected by this all-volunteer organization go directly to the purchase of gifts for local children in need.

And that’s where the all-volunteer, nonprofit Our Neighbor’s Child comes in, working to make sure that no child in need in Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, Fair Oaks and Fair Lakes goes without holiday gifts.

This is its 21st year and, when it first began, ONC brought presents to a handful of local families. But over the years, the economy worsened, many local residents fell onto hard times and the need for help grew. So now, the group is providing new toys and clothing for 610 families.

That number includes more than 2,300 children, so the organization desperately needs the community’s help. And even the smallest donation can make a difference.

“It takes a community, team effort to do this,” said ONC Executive Director Kelly Lavin. “Our volunteers could never serve all these families alone. If the schools, businesses and churches didn’t host the giving trees — with ornaments containing the children’s gift wishes, we couldn’t do it. And if people didn’t take the ornaments, go buy the presents requested and bring them back, it would be hard for us to fulfill all those dreams.”

Residents may also help by participating in some collection events for the recipient families:

  • This Saturday, Dec. 1, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., ONC volunteers will conduct a toy drive outside the new, Chantilly Walmart at the Dulles Expo Center site at 4368 Chantilly Shopping Center. Decked out in sparkly, holiday outfits, dancers from the Creative Dance Center’s competition team will man the ONC giving tree inside the store. There, shoppers may take ornaments containing children’s gift wishes, purchase these items in the store and then drop them in the decorated, ONC boxes outside or hand them to more CDC dancers there. This is the eighth year the dance group has participated in this event.
  • ONC will also be collecting toys, Dec. 1, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., outside the Walmart in the Fair Lakes Shopping Center. ONC project leader Phyllis White is coordinating this toy drive.
  • On Saturday, Dec. 8, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Stone Middle School is sponsoring its fifth annual Panther Drop Off. Area residents may bring new clothes and toys to the school, and everything collected that day will be donated to ONC. Students in Stone’s National Junior Honor Society will be there to help unload cars and sort gifts.

All next week, civics students will be delivering flyers throughout Centreville to inform the community about this service project. They’re also running contests in school to see which class can collect the most items, the week before the event.

Although it takes work and time, those who volunteer with and for ONC are happy to do it because they know the importance of the task at hand. Last year, for example, CDC and other area youth organizations joined together to provide 128 coats for children in need.

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Some of the colorful gifts ready to be packed inside the bags of toys and clothing given to last year’s recipient families.

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Gift bags in ONC’s warehouse last year, all filled and ready to go. Not pictured are the bikes that also go to many families.

“In working with ONC for almost a decade, a generation of our dancers has learned of and personally witnessed the generosity of our greater Northern Virginia community,” said CDC’s Cheri Est. “We consider it an honor to assist ONC with its efforts.”

Each year, as well, Centreville High and Westfield High SGA students bring to school and package thousands of homemade cookies so each recipient family on ONC’s list can receive a box along with their gifts. And students at Chantilly High conduct a wrapping-paper drive so each family may wrap its presents for its own children.

Lavin continually learns how many people in this area need help. On Monday, while she was at the Chantilly Walmart discussing where the giving tree would go, an employee told her of a girl who came into the store one day, trying to cash a gift card so she could buy lunch at school. The employee said she couldn’t use the gift card that way, but she gave her the lunch money, herself.

Even new freshmen in their high school’s SGA, participating in ONC for the first time, initially have no clue about the need for help in the local community. “Once they do, they see firsthand the good they’re doing,” said Lavin. “And they realize that connection between their volunteer efforts and what they can do in the future.”

“I love seeing their elation when that sinks in,” she continued. “There’s no truer high than doing something selfless to help someone else. There’s no typical ‘look’ to a family in need. They might live in a nice home, but it belongs to someone else and they rent space in the basement.”

With more clothing requests than ever, this year, Stephanie Somers, ONC project leader in charge of clothing donations, urgently needs people to ‘adopt’ families and purchase their children’s clothing needs. Some 660 families have asked for warm clothing such as coats, hats, jackets, mittens and sweaters.

“Stephanie’s gotten one-third of the families’ clothing needs adopted, or some 220 families,” said Lavin. “But that still leaves 440 more families needing their clothing wishes fulfilled — and we just received 30 new families Tuesday night.” Somers may be reached at somers06@cox.net.

Another way people may help ONC is by going to its website at www.ourneighborschild.org/index.html and clicking on the “donate now” button. Ultimately, said Lavin, “That’s what’s going to help us purchase the needed clothes and toys that aren’t donated via the giving trees.”

Tax-deductible contributions may also be made by mailing checks payable to Our Neighbor’s Child to: Karen Moore, Treasurer, Our Neighbor’s Child, P.O. Box 276, Centreville, VA 20120.

As always, Lavin’s hoping the caring and generosity of local residents will shine through to help their neighbors. Because, she said, when it comes right down to it, “ONC isn’t an entity — it’s an effort from the community’s heart.”