by Nancy Bishop
Even the Jolly Old Elf himself sometimes needs a helping hand to fill that sleigh!
And since 1985, people have been doing just that through the Brighter Christmas Fund started by the Press Enterprise that year. In an article in the paper Nov. 27,1985, then Executive Editor Carl E. Beck Jr. said, “Especially at this time of year we believe our readers would like to help someone less fortunate.”
To kick off the Fund, the Press Enterprise donated $1,000. The money was to be used to buy groceries, clothes, and toys for needy people whose stories would be printed without giving away their identity in the weeks leading up to Christmas. A committee was formed to make decisions about the donations. Then, as it still is, the committee is made up of community volunteers and social service agency representatives. And the newspaper still runs the stories of recipients in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Says current Press Enterprise Editor Pete Kendron, “To me, these folks from the region’s schools and social services who donate their time form the heart of the Brighter Christmas Fund.
“They reach out to all the people who apply and gather information on their income and expenses. During board meetings they scrutinize each application to make sure the applicants are being honest. We as a Board want to make sure that we honor the donors by ensuring their money goes to people truly in need.”
Recipients must live within the Press Enterprise coverage area. That’s all of Columbia and Montour counties, along with the areas of Luzerne County in Berwick Area and Northwest Area school districts and the areas of Northumberland County in the Danville Area and Southern Area school districts as well as Unityville in Lycoming County.
More than $2 million has been donated and given out since the fund started. This year alone, donations are near the $50,000 mark.
But Santa still needs more help!
How can you turn away from Jane and Sam, who opened their home this year to Sam’s sister’s children to give the three, who are ages 6, 4 and 2, a stable home after their mother, who struggles with drug and mental health issues, couldn’t take care of them. They ended up adopting the children, although the legal fees for that were more than $2,000. Then Sam ended up having health issues that required surgery and weeks off from his job. While he recovered, the bills piled up, leaving nothing for presents from Santa. Thanks to the Brighter Christmas Fund, Santa will visit the kids, who are thriving in their new home. (Like all Brighter Christmas Fund stories, the names and some details of this situation have been changed to protect the family’s identity.)
“It’s stories like these that really touch my heart,” says Kendron. “So many brothers, sisters and grandparents step in to raise their nieces, nephews or grandkids, even when they aren’t in the best financial situation themselves. We know the problems addictions have created in our communities, but it’s rarer that we hear about the people trying to solve those problems even at a financial cost to themselves.”
In 2019, the Brighter Christmas Fund became part of the Community Giving Foundation, rather than continuing as its own separate charity. The purpose of the charity remains the same, but everyone felt the professionals at the foundation could better handle the administrative side of things, Kendron says.
Donations are accepted year-round at csgiving.org/donate (Pick “Brighter Christmas Fund” from the list of charities.) Any money not given out this year will carry over to future years. It assists the Brighter Christmas Fund Board in handling the earliest requests, which often start just after Halloween. However, the goal is to give out as much as possible each year.
For 2023, the Brighter Christmas Fund Board officers are: President, Nancy Irons, Columbia-Montour Aging Office Inc., Bloomsburg; Vice President, April Miller, Columbia County Children and Youth Services, Bloomsburg; and Secretary, Lisa Brelsford, CCDP Head Start, Bloomsburg.
Board members are: Danielle Spaid, Danville Child Development Center, Danville; Pete Kendron, Press Enterprise, Bloomsburg; Betsy Hack, The Good Samaritan mission, Danville; Ashley Hackenberg, Danville Head Start, Danville; Jennifer Campbell and Gail Titus, Beyond Violence, Berwick; Tammy Feudale, Tacy Bigger and Lindsey Fish, Columbia County Assistance Office, Bloomsburg; April Thomas, CMSU Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, Danville; Joan Mosier, Bloomsburg; Michelle Welsh Pace, Columbia County Family Centers, Bloomsburg; Faith Rierson, CCDP Head Start, Bloomsburg; Julie Sees (Middle School), Berwick Area School District, Berwick; Karen Heaps, AGAPE, Bloomsburg; Jennifer Flick, Central Columbia School District, Bloomsburg; Alicia Lindenmuth, Bloomsburg Salvation Army, Bloomsburg; Alyssa Scott and Autumn Hart, The Women’s Center Inc., Bloomsburg; Deidra Unger, Salvation Army – Berwick, Berwick; Karri Harter, Community Giving Foundation, Berwick; and Tammy Mrozek, Bloomsburg High School, Bloomsburg.
It’s not too late to give Santa a helping hand this year. Won’t you join me in helping?