Helping Centreville Families During Holidays

Helping Centreville Families During Holidays

Our Neighbor’s Child provides toys and clothing.

From left are Nicole Rogers, Kelly Lavin and John O’Neill at the Our Neighbor’s Child booth at Centreville Day.

From left are Nicole Rogers, Kelly Lavin and John O’Neill at the Our Neighbor’s Child booth at Centreville Day. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.

When Centreville’s Kelly Lavin and some friends got together in 1991 to provide Christmas gifts for some families in need in their community, they did so for 15 children. Fast forward to now, and that number has grown to 1,876 children.

Good thing that Lavin founded a whole organization to serve them. Now in its 25th year, Our Neighbor’s Child (ONC) makes sure that financially struggling, local families receive new toys and clothes for the holidays. Each child under 12 also receives a brand-new book, and every recipient family is given two dozen, home-baked cookies made by the local high schools.

But this grassroots nonprofit can’t do it without help from the community. “We’re still processing the last batch of referrals from the school counselors and social workers, and we already have 799 families on our list,” said Lavin. “And we just got in new families from Centre Ridge Elementary and Centreville High that haven’t yet been counted.”

And in this time of Thanksgiving, instead of complaining about the huge task facing ONC, she’s thankful for all those who help make the organization’s efforts possible. For example, she said, “I’m really grateful for all the school counselors and social workers who give of their time to make these referrals. They know which families need help, but that’s just the beginning.”

“They have to input all the data — each family’s name, the sex and ages of the children, their address and phone number, the gift wish list, etc,” continued Lavin. “And the more referrals they have, the more work they have to do — and I appreciate it.”

And besides Lavin, herself, there’s a core group of five other people who work full-time for ONC from September through December. One of them is John O’Neill, who develops software enabling ONC to prevent duplication of services between it and other nonprofits. “We could not serve the numbers of families we do, otherwise,” said Lavin. “And we couldn’t deliver gifts to 800 families in three hours without the software system he designed for us.”

Another is Nicole Rogers, who Lavin calls an unsung hero. “She’s quiet, dedicated and will do whatever it takes to get every child served,” said Lavin. “She’s our database manager who uses the software — and it’s a huge job. People constantly give us new phone numbers or become homeless and get new addresses. So Nicole’s continually dealing with these changes.”

Rogers is also available at ONC’s warehouse to answer volunteers’ questions. And she coordinates with Genesys of Chantilly, an automated-dialing company, which calls the hundreds of recipient families to tell them when their gifts will be delivered. And, added Lavin, “If, for example, we had a blizzard on delivery day, all those families would have to be called again; we couldn’t do it without them.”

She said Denise McInerney is also invaluable, The gift-partner manager, McInerney reaches out to all the businesses, churches and schools in October to see if they’ll still help. She also asks how many gift-wish ornaments they’ll take to put on their giving trees or if they’ll do a general gift drive.

“It’s a daily job for her, and then she comes in and works in the warehouse,” said Lavin. “Others volunteer in our warehouse, too, to sort and package donations, make sure the gifts are there for each family and shop for those items that haven’t been donated. Some 15 people comprise our core, warehouse staff.”

Meanwhile, clothing coordinator Stephanie Somers “adopts out” the children’s clothing wishes. She then follows up with the clothing donors to give them the sizes and needs of each child they’re taking care of and reminds them of the clothing drop-off days.

Another big helper is Lisa Rennyson, who’s involved in the gift-giving effort from start to finish. She begins as the ornament-making coordinator, working with Stone Middle School students who create more than 5,000 paper ornaments for ONC’s giving-tree partners. She then hosts a labeling party at her home where Virginia Run Elementary students attach to the ornaments labels printed with the recipient children’s gift wishes.

Rennyson is also in charge of a team that maintains the giving trees at the Walmarts in Chantilly and Fair Lakes and regularly picks up the donated gifts. Then she and her children sort and package gifts in the warehouse. And, said Lavin, “They’ve done that for years.”

To participate, people may either email ONC at or sign up via its website,, and click on “volunteer” at the top of the page. They may help with whatever appeals to them; they can bake cookies, shop, package gifts, deliver gifts, or set up or clean up the warehouse.

All this work “takes its toll sometimes,” said Lavin, but is immensely fulfilling.  Each year, Stone Middle National Junior Honor Society students host a clothing drop-off for ONC, and Lavin recently explained to them what her organization does. And, she said, “It was wonderful watching their faces taking it in and then getting excited about making a difference.”

Lavin also appreciates everything all the local residents, businesses, churches and other groups due to bring the annual gift drive and delivery to fruition. “It’s not ONC providing all these gifts, it’s the community,” said Lavin. “We’re just coordinating their efforts. And we’re able to do that because of people who care and are helping out because it’s the right thing to do.”