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Need, generosity rise during holidays, Westmoreland County nonprofits report | TribLIVE.com
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Need, generosity rise during holidays, Westmoreland County nonprofits report

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Stephen Huba
Westmoreland County Food Bank volunteers (from left) Tiffany Piper, Joni Mattei and Julie Shields sort food Wednesday for the Military Share Program. The food will be distributed to Mt. Pleasant-area veterans and their families during the holidays. Fifty-three members of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants volunteered to sort and pack the food, some of which came from the Giant Eagle Fall Food Share food drive.

Although Norman Rockwell’s painting “Freedom from Want” shows a richly laden Thanksgiving table, the reality for many people is closer to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

The fact that “want is keenly felt” during the holidays also makes it a time of increased charitable activity in Westmoreland County, nonprofit officials say.

“In the next few weeks, people will donate all sorts of things. The community’s so generous,” said Debbie Thackrah, president of Feeding the Spirit.

The Greensburg nonprofit recently distributed 2,800 bags of free clothing, attaching them to the Main Street bridge and other public places.

“It’s partly the time of the year — people feel like they’ve been blessed and they want to give something back,” said Curt Hoffman, CEO of the Christian Layman Corps.

The Greensburg ministry operates a thrift store on East Pittsburgh Street throughout the year but sees an increase in activity in the weeks before Christmas, Hoffman said.

“Thanksgiving is every day for us,” he said. “If someone needs a coat and comes in with a voucher, we will give them a coat. Whatever their need is, we try to fill that as best we can.”

Referrals by the Westmoreland County Food Bank to member agencies usually go up in November and December, said Texie Waddell, director of agency services.

“We do see an increase at this time of year. We tend to see the enrollment at monthly food pantry distributions increase,” Waddell said.

The Salem-based food bank serves more than 31,000 area residents annually through a network of 43 food pantries, most of which do monthly on-site distributions. Some of those pantries also schedule community holiday meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Among the new initiatives this year is Open Your Heart for the Holidays by the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. The program needs volunteers to pack $40 gift bags for senior citizens in need.

Participants can either pack their own gift bags and drop them off by Monday at the United Way office, 1011 Old Salem Road, Suite 101, Greensburg, or attend a packing and sorting party Dec. 5 at West Penn Power, 800 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg.

“It’s a really nice partnership program. The Westmoreland County Housing Authority is connecting us with the seniors most in need of these gift bags,” said United Way spokeswoman Jackie Johns. “A lot of seniors we work with still live at home. Their social circle gets smaller and smaller because their family does not live in the area or their friends have passed away.”

Volunteers are needed to deliver gift bags to senior centers and Housing Authority sites Dec. 13 and 15.

United Way also connects employees at participating businesses such as Kennametal with children who are clients of Big Brothers Big Sisters and Westmoreland Community Action, Johns said.

“We’re the matchmaker in that situation,” she said. “The employees will go out and shop and wrap the gifts, and we help coordinate the delivery (through the agencies).”

In addition to its annual Red Kettle Campaign, the Salvation Army of Greensburg enrolls qualifying families in three programs during the Christmas season: Treasures for Children, Adopt-a-Family and Project Bundle Up.

This is the first year the Greensburg Salvation Army is partnering with Sears for the Treasures for Children program, through which customers choose a tag at the store and buy gifts for a family in need, Maj. Vanessa Fullwood said.

Maj. Earnest Fullwood said the Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving dinner was held Monday to coincide with its regular soup kitchen outreach.

“We served about 150 people. We had a very good turnout — the place was packed,” he said.

The Salvation Army also partners with the Tribune-Review and Shop ‘n Save for the annual Operation Santa Claus, through which local families receive all the ingredients for a holiday meal and children receive new or gently used books.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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