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Granville resident Cathy Oliveri (left), Pastor Ron McNeill of United Church of Christ in Granville and Brenda Bartoluzzi, also of Granville, talk over their present-wrapping strategy while volunteering for Putnam County Toys in the Pantry. The Putnam County Christmas basket program will serve 157 families this year, including 198 children.
GRANVILLE — Granville United Church of Christ’s Bonucchi Hall greatly resembles Santa’s workshop every December.
And if Santa ever finds himself a few elves short, he might want to consider recruiting the Putnam County residents who help with the annual Christmas Basket project — the program runs like a well-oiled machine.
“We’re prepared for it. It’s a year-long thing,” Putnam County Food Pantry manager John Shimkus said.
Event organizers are quick to point out that this project couldn’t be completed by a handful of people - well over 100 volunteers, including students, help in some way. This year, 157 families have requested Christmas baskets - just slightly up from last year’s 155, but the number has steadily been increasing since 117 families were served in 2008. It’s likely that a few last-minute requests will trickle in this year, according to Judy Hopkins, who co-chairs the basket project.
In addition to the food basket, Putnam County Toys in the Pantry will ensure that 198 children this year receive gifts for Christmas. If not for this program, some children might have nothing at all to open Christmas morning.
Numerous churches throughout the county also get into the spirit of giving — collecting clothing and other items for children and senior citizens.
Shimkus said numerous food drives in December helped immensely for the baskets, as did donations sent in by residents.
“The generosity is wonderful because we never lack for funds,” Shimkus said.
Donations from residents, organizations, villages and businesses also poured in this year for Toys in the Pantry, said Cathy Oliveri, who co-chairs the toy drive along with Chauntelle Biagi-Bruer.
“I’ve gotten like 400- or 500-dollar donations this year from people I’ve never gotten them from,” she said.
Oliveri said this year’s most-requested toys were Monster High dolls, Legos and sports-related items.
Gayle Reno, who co-chairs the basket project with Hopkins, said she received a call earlier this year from a woman who lives near Joliet. She wanted to make a donation and had heard about the project because she has a summer home in Lake Thunderbird.
“That’s how far we’re reaching out,” Reno said.
Reno said United Church of Christ, which has given the food pantry a place to operate for over 20 years, is giving out clothing for senior citizens.
“Some of those older people, that will be the only gift they get. And a lot of those seniors would never ask (for anything),” she said. “Next year, I’m shooting for fire alarms.”
Although organizing the basket project does take up a lot of time, Reno is happy to do it.
“It gets pretty personal because it’s smaller scale so we know them (the people that are helped),” Reno said.
Reno recently received a letter from a former county resident who said she had no idea how much the food pantry impacted her life until she moved out of the county.
“It’s a letter I’ll keep forever,” Reno said.
Shannon Crawley-Serpette may be reached at (309)364-2268 or email@example.com.
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