Wrapping children’s gifts at the family shelter are (from left) Lake Braddock sophomore Liz Barr and Robinson sophomore Carolina Gonzalez, both of Girl Scout Troop 870 of Burke, plus Liz’s mom, Evangeline Barr.
Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.
The children living in the Katherine Hanley Family Shelter may not have many possessions; but on Christmas Day, they had presents. The gifts were donated by a variety of groups, including the Fair Oaks District Police Station and Chantilly High’s photography students.
And the evening of Dec. 19, the students kept the children busy with arts and crafts projects while, in another room, their parents picked out their Christmas presents from the donated items. The gifts were then wrapped by more students, plus some members of a Girl Scout troop from Burke.
"We like helping the community and this is a fun way to do it," said Chantilly sophomore Autumn Tury. "And since this is Christmastime and some kids’ families can’t afford presents, it’s important that we do this."
PFC Wayne Twombly, the crime-prevention officer with the Fair Oaks District Station, has donated toys to the shelter before. But for the past two Christmases, he’s teamed up with Chantilly’s Photography Club for an even bigger impact.
"A lot of the kids know him from working the [Charger] football games and doing driver’s-license ceremonies at the [Fairfax County] courthouse," said photography teacher and club advisor Betty Simmons. "And when Photo Club decided to do a service project, Officer Twombly’s name was given to me as a good point of contact to help us find a cause we could contribute to."
WHEN THE TWO SPOKE on the phone, Twombly suggested the Katherine Hanley shelter, which provides a temporary home for mothers with young children. He also offered his help coordinating their joint efforts.
"I loved the idea because I think it’s important for students to see the police in a positive light and be able to work alongside them for the betterment of the community," said Simmons. "Last year  we partnered for the first time, and Officer Twombly was a tremendous help in making this project a success."
And Twombly couldn’t be happier about their participation. "She and her students get very excited about wanting to make it a special time for the children there," he said. "We’re now making it an annual event."
Last Christmas, the shelter children each got two or three gifts; but this Christmas – because of the community’s generosity – they each received five presents. "We’ve been collecting toys since November," said Simmons. "We got the photography classes involved, too."
On Dec. 19, the students helped the children color Christmas cards and make picture frames for their parents. They also took photos of the children with Santa Claus (Twombly in costume) and handed out stockings full of snacks and toys.
Junior Darren Almodiel brought toys for both boys and girls. "I just wanted to give back," he explained. "It helps you realize how lucky you are."
"A lot of the students said they couldn’t imagine being in a situation where Christmas was an impossibility," said Simmons. "So they really wanted to do something personal for these families."
ALSO LENDING A HAND wrapping gifts were Lake Braddock Secondary sophomore Liz Barr, plus Robinson Secondary sophomores Carolina Gonzalez, Abby Toler and Emily Treanor, all of Girl Scout Troop 870 of Burke.
And the shelter residents appreciated everything that was done for them. Alberta Fryar and Dathan Azariah picked out gifts for their children together and were overjoyed to be able to give them presents for Christmas.
"I think this program is awesome," said Fryar. "And considering the situation we’re all in, it really lifts our spirits when they do something as nice as this."
Azariah was also pleased that an "ample amount" of gifts had been donated. "It looked like a toy store in there, and it gave the kids a variety," he said. "I think it’s great how people give back to the less fortunate, and I really appreciate what the volunteers did. Hard times don’t last, but it’s important to have a little something for the kids at Christmas. In this time of joy, that’s what it’s all about."