Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton and Friends of the Poor collaborated for the annual “Christmas Gifts for Kids” toy distribution on Dec. 14 and 15, 2021. (Photos/Eric Deabill)

DICKSON CITY – Nearly 1,200 children in the greater Scranton area will have presents under the tree Christmas morning thanks to the generosity of the community and an ongoing partnership between Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, Friends of the Poor and the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program.

“It is truly an honor to be able to serve families and their children,” Mary Theresa Malandro, Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Human Services & Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Social Services, said. “We do not want to see any child go without a gift on Christmas.”

On Dec. 14 and 15, more than 500 families who pre-registered were able to visit LCBC Church on the Scranton Carbondale Highway to select toys for their children as part of the “Christmas Gifts for Kids” program.

Parents were able to shop for their own toys inside LCBC Church during the toy distribution. The toys were all separated by age range to help parents find the perfect present.

Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, gifts were pre-bagged for families and given out via a drive-thru system. This year, Catholic Social Services and Friends of the Poor were thrilled to announce that parents would once again be allowed to select their own gifts.

“Parents know their children better than anyone and for them to be able to come into this environment and feel like they’re shopping and selecting the gifts they know will put a smile on the face of their children is very fulfilling,” Malandro added.

One of the core values for both organizations is dignity. Both agencies feel that allowing families to make their own choices is more empowering and personal.

“Coming in and choosing the toys that they’re going to give their children is a big part of that. No parent wants to be just as surprised as the kids when they open up a gift on Christmas morning,” Meghan Loftus, President and CEO of Friends of the Poor, explained.

When the doors opened to the first families at 9 a.m. on Dec. 14, a large room was filled with presents separated by age groups. From dolls and trucks for younger children – to scooters and sports equipment for older kids – there was plenty for families to choose.

“It is truly an honor and a joy,” Brady Funkhouser, Operations Manager with Friends of the Poor, said about assisting all of the families. “This is what Christmas is all about. Everyone I speak to is just so grateful for the opportunity that they have to have something for their kids at Christmas. It is an awesome feeling.”

In an effort to promote social distancing and allow for a smooth and timely selection of gifts, parents signed-up for a 15-minute time slot in which to select their gifts when they registered for the “Christmas Gifts for Kids” program.

Organizers say every child is expected to get at least two or three gifts.

“We were able to collaborate with other agencies in the community and make sure that we weren’t duplicating who they had already registered so we could reach more people and make sure there is no child in Scranton without a gift underneath their tree,” Loftus said.

All of the agencies involved in the toy distribution explained how this project is a collaborative effort.

“We couldn’t do it without the support of the community and the volunteers who take time off from work to help the families shop and help people pick out toys. We’re both small teams but we’re making a really big impact and that’s because of the volunteers that we have,” Loftus added.

Malandro added that since the Diocesan Annual Appeal supports the work of Catholic Social Services, this project is just another example of how donations help their agency serve the community.

“This is serving those in need. I’m passionate about that,” she explained.

In addition to the toy giveaway in Scranton, Catholic Social Services also sponsored several other toy distributions this year. Hundreds of other families in the Carbondale and Hazleton areas also received toys as well in separate distributions.