DICKSON CITY – More than 1,700 children in the greater-Scranton area will have gifts to open on Christmas morning because of a partnership between Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton, Friends of the Poor and Catherine McAuley Center.

The three non-profit agencies teamed up on Wednesday, Dec. 7 to distribute presents to 750 needy families at LCBC Church on the Scranton Carbondale Highway.

“I’m in awe. I’m thrilled that we can help that many families,” Joe Mahoney, Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Human Services and Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Social Services, said. “It really is a team effort. The three agencies came together and did this. A lot of hard work went into it and it is worth it.”

Beginning at 9 a.m., parents and caregivers were invited to shop for the toys that they will give their children on Christmas morning. From Cocomelon dolls, Paw Patrol gift sets to scooters and bikes, there were thousands of gifts set up in a large auditorium.

Meghan Loftus, President and CEO of Friends of the Poor, said the toy distribution means parents will have one less thing to worry about
as the holiday season approaches.

“Before I became a mom, I thought about the kids and how much better this made the day for them,” she explained. “Now what I focus on is the relief in the parents’ faces, just the stress in their eyes when they come in and the tension in their bodies and how happy they are when they’re walking out because it’s just one less thing they have to worry about.”

Staff members of the three non-profit agencies and volunteers from the community escorted each of the families through the auditorium to select gifts based on the age range of their children. They also provided stocking stuffers, books, games, puzzles and clothing.

Eleven students from Holy Cross High School in Dunmore volunteered to help families shop.

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the community and give back to families, especially during the holiday season,” Avianna Voglino, 17, said. “I am so grateful to be a part of this today.”

The high school senior said each parent was very appreciative.

“Every person I have been with has said thank you for helping out,” she added. “I’ve donated to Toys for Tots in the past so it’s nice to know where everything is going and who it is going to.”

Katie Mellody, 18, said the service project fits into the theme of the academic year at Holy Cross.

“The theme for this year is ‘Is there room in your heart for God to write a story?’” Mellody explained. “I think everyone taking part in this feels that way, yes, there is.”

As she watched all the families and volunteers, Loftus was struckby how everyone came together no matter their values or faith.

“We do this work, as a Catholic-based institution, because we believe in it. We believe it is our obligation,” Loftus said. “This is us spreading God’s love to everybody in the community but we don’t think that anyone needs to be of our faith to be deserving of that love and of that help.”

This was the first year that Catherine McAuley Center participated in the Gifts for Kids Program with the other two agencies.

“When someone comes to one of our doors and they’re looking for help, we’re able to say, here are all of the gift giveaways that are available in our area and we’re all working together. We don’t have to refer somebody to a different agency. We can answer their questions right there and even get them registered for the event,” Krista Somers Murray, Executive Director, Catherine McAuley Center, said.

For those who were unable to attend the Dec. 7 toy distribution, the three agencies will hold one more gift-giving event on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at the Byron Center at The University of Scranton. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., more toys will be available for parents on a first come, first served basis.

While there is no preregistration, parents must qualify by having an income level below the federal poverty line. They must also bring identification, proof of Lackawanna County residency and something that has their child’s name on it (Social Security card, birth certificate or even a report card) to the event.