SCRANTON – In the days leading up to Christmas, Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton helped brighten the holiday season for a total of 6,151 local children.

As part of the Gifts for Kids Program, the agency helped a total of 5,101 children in the greater Scranton area, 686 children in the Hazleton area and an additional 364 children in Carbondale.“

This is what we get into social work for,” Dominque Jordan, Catholic Social Services’ Carbondale Office supervisor, said at a toy distribution on Dec. 13. “It is great to see so much happiness.”

A volunteer helps parents shop for toys during the Gifts for Kids distribution at The University of Scranton on Dec. 21, 2023. (Photo/Eric Deabill)

The basement of Saint Rose of Lima Parish looked like Santa’s workshop as thousands of toys were put out on display. Parents were able to select three gifts for each of their children.

“This is a big help,” Christina Staff of Carbondale said as she selected gifts for her four children, who range in age from seven months to ten years old. “With how the economy is going now-a-days, everything is so expensive. This is going to help us get our kids the toys they deserve to have for the year.”

On Dec. 16, staff and volunteers distributed gifts from the Catholic Social Services’ Family Center on South Church Street in Hazleton.

One mother, who benefited from the distribution, expressed her gratitude in a message to staff.

“I want to thank you for everything you have done … this has been one of the most difficult years economically, emotionally and even physically for me,” the woman stated. “I know that at some point we all need (help) and I want to thank you for this (toy distribution) and more. I bless your life, the life of your family, the life of the people that work at the center, and everyone who in one way or another is part of this spectacular project.”

On the week of Dec. 18-21, Catholic Social Services took part in three different toy distributions in Scranton along with three other community non-profits: Friends of the Poor, Catherine McAuley Center and the Salvation Army.

“It is really a great collaboration. It is really unique because it is four faith-based organizations in the area,” Meghan Loftus, President and CEO of Friends of the Poor, said. “The need is significantly greater than it has ever been.”

On Dec. 18 and 20, the four agencies distributed gifts to pre-registered families at the Byron Center at The University of Scranton. Registration took place in October and lasted only minutes.

“When we opened our registration this year for Gifts for Kids, it was completely filled, over 3,000 kids, in less than an hour,” Jolette Lyons, Catholic Social Services Director of Lackawanna County Offices, explained.

Because of the generosity of the community, the agencies were able to offer a general walk-up event on Dec. 21, which assisted nearly 2,400 children in a matter of hours.

“In the past, each of our agencies provided their own Christmas programming, but through conversations we determined if we could join together, we can serve more people by having less of an administrative burden,” Krista Murray, executive director of Catherine McAuley Center, added.

In the end, no matter its location – Scranton, Carbondale or Hazleton – the Christmas Gifts for Kids Program is about providing joy and love during the holiday season.

“It gives us a sense of satisfaction that our community comes together to help people who are less fortunate,” Trish Smith, a volunteer with Catholic Social Services, said. “It is all about sharing the love of Christ!”