Pitching in for Santa

Gary Bunch, of Stephens City, checks over one of the new bicycles that are among gifts donated or bought for Toys for Tots inside the Stephens City distribution center. The Toys for Tots chapter serves Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, Clarke and Page counties. Rich Cooley/Daily

Santa Claus has a difficult time placing gifts under the tree for many needy families, so several area organizations and groups in the area have stepped up to provide children with gifts and toys this Christmas season.

Empty Stocking Fund

As the team of helpers behind the Empty Stocking Fund, nine Ruritan clubs in Shenandoah County are making 575 children’s Christmases a little more joyful this year.

Janet Ballowe, secretary of the annual program, said they take names of kids from the Shenandoah County Department of Social Services and buy and wrap gifts for them.

She said they spend $50 on gifts for infants to 3 year old kids and $70 on kids age 4 to 12.

According to Treasurer Jim Ballowe, their fundraising goal this year is $33,000. He said they’ve raised about $6,000 of it so far.

When they first took over the fund from a local weekly newspaper in 2006, he said they helped about 300 kids in need. That number has nearly doubled since then.

Members of the Ruritan clubs and other volunteers, including a group of students from Peter Muhlenberg Middle School, shop and wrap the gifts, which are given out to the families on Dec. 9.

Donations can be sent to the Ruritan Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 411, Strasburg, Va. 22657.

For more information about the Empty Stocking Fund, call 540-465-3452.

Toys for Tots

Perhaps the most recognizable name, Toys for Tots has collection boxes in countless grocery stores and other businesses around the region.

James Wolfe is the local coordinator of the Toys for Tots chapter that serves Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick, Clarke and Page counties.

Last year, the chapter helped bring toys to 3,989 children. This year, Toys for Tots expects to help even more.

“You hear a lot of stories about people falling through the cracks and not being able to work,” Wolfe said. “There’s a family in Front Royal that just got burned out of their home, and we’re going to provide some toys for them.”

He said every toy collected in the area stays in the area, and added that 97 cents of every dollar donated to the organization is used for purchasing toys for children whose families can’t afford them.

Wolfe said they try to give at least three gifts to each child: a “fairly nice” gift, medium-value one, a small toy and some stocking stuffers.

As a result, the program is in need of donated toys to meet its goal of about 20,000 items.

The volunteers pick up toys from collection boxes and take them to the distribution center in Stephens City, where they’re sorted by age and gender and sent out.

“We’re happy to make kids happy for Christmas,” Wolfe said.

For more information on the local Toys for Tots program, run by the Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller Detachment 890 of the Marines Corps League, email chesty890@aol.com or call 540-327-4127.

Shenandoah Angels

Inside Shanholtz’s Gifts and Gallery in Mount Jackson is a Christmas tree covered in ornaments, each written with a child’s first name, age, clothing size and wish list.

Without the “angels” who shop and pick up the toys listed on the back of the ornaments, some children would be celebrating a Christmas morning without presents.

Business owner Ann Shanholtz is part of the Shenandoah Angels network, a Facebook group of about 820 members that provides help for needy families in Shenandoah County.

Many of the children they provide presents for are older than 12, the typical cutoff age for Toys for Tots, she said.

“We take kids all the way to 18 [years old], because we don’t want to see a 7-year-old in the house and a 17-year-old and one gets a bag of toys and the other doesn’t,” she said.

She said they plan to provide toys for about 100 children this year.

“This is a real giving community,” she said. “People will give up their last dollar to help.”

Shanholtz’s Gifts and Gallery is located at 5980 S. Main St. in Mount Jackson.

To find out how to help out with the Shenandoah Angels network, contact Shanholtz on Facebook

Front Royal Police and Elks Lodge

The Front Royal Police Department is changing the way it helps deliver toys for Santa this year.

In previous years, the police department hosted “Operation Blue Christmas,” in which officers took children out for Christmas shopping.

This year, the police force, combined with the Front Royal Elks Lodge and the Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, is sending toys and boxes of food to Front Royal families in need.

This has allowed them to reach more families that did not receive any other type of help, said Community Resource Officer Brad Pennington.

He said they focus is on children ages 4 to 8, but will also provide gifts for those ages 1 through 16.

Pennington said more than 20 families will be helped this winter.

Contact the Front Royal Elks Lodge at 540-635-2330 for more information.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com