A community comes ‘all together now’
WAYNE COUNTY, PA — About 35 years ago, a case worker in the Wayne County Department of Children & Youth Services was given the unfortunate task of placing several children into foster care during the holidays. He rallied some coworkers together to donate clothes and toys and to make sure that those children still had presents to open on Christmas morning.
That act of goodwill served as the catalyst for the Wayne County Children’s Christmas Bureau (CCB), a community-run charity with connections to organizations and groups throughout the county. For years, the bureau was run through the Honesdale Area Jaycees and the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, but it has since become a stand-alone 501(c)3 non-profit.
The bureau is run by eight volunteer board members: Rick Hnatko, Bill O’Neill, Jason Nacinovich, Marissa Nacinovich, Crystal James, Rozalyn Burke, David Sporer and John Carmody. The board is guided by one simple mantra: “Every kid deserves a present on Christmas.” Though these eight are at the helm, they are quick to say it takes an entire community to make the CCB run effectively.
Beginning in October of each year, families that are not able to complete holiday shopping for their children themselves can sign up for help from the Christmas Bureau. Over the next few months, the board members complete the families’ shopping lists and distribute the gifts to children in December. This year, the bureau assisted about 130 families and more than 300 children. It also assists some children without biological families. In addition to presents on their gift lists, families also received vouchers for a Christmas tree and a gift card to Dave’s Super Duper grocery store.
The CCB’s treasurer position is a busy one, said Carmody, who filled that role for years. There are many different sources of funding that the charity relies on to make sure they never have to turn away an eligible family.
“In general, the CCB relies on the generosity of businesses and individuals in the community,” Carmody said. The bureau solicits donations throughout spring and fall. It also works with several different organizations and groups to help ease its financial burden.
One of the more unique fundraisers is the yearly Michael G. Stanton “shower for charity.” Recently completing his 18th year, Stanton stands in a bathtub, under a shower, on the sidewalks of Main Street in the middle of December, regardless of snow or the outdoor temperature, wearing only a festive pair of boxers, until he reaches a certain fundraising goal. Stanton has raised nearly $250,000 over the years, much of the money going toward the CCB.
The Wayne County Sheriff’s Department also lends a hand during the holidays. A few years ago, Sheriff Mark Steelman had an idea to hold a “cram the cruiser” toy drive, in which he and his deputies go to various retail store locations and ask folks entering the store to donate gifts. The pile of gifts that this brings in every year serves as supplemental presents for the CCB families to provide their children on Christmas.
To help ease the CCB’s financial burden, it also runs an “adopt-a-family” program, in which individuals can volunteer to complete, and pay for, the holiday shopping for a family on the CCB’s list.
“We are just a conduit between the kids that need it and a very generous community,” Carmody said. “Somebody’s got to pull that all together, that’s what we do.”
Although CCB’s distribution day has passed, that does not mean the board members’ work for the year is finished. There have been years when CCB volunteers have run to the store to buy gifts just a day or two before Christmas Day, because a family had an unforeseen crisis.
“We will not turn somebody away,” Hnatko said. “We want to make sure that the children wake up Christmas morning—in spite of everything that year has brought them and their family—and get that one special morning.”
For Carmody, the most rewarding part of being on the board is when he sees the CCB make its mark on someone who was once on the list and has since gotten back on their feet.
“I’ve seen it: someone’s there [receiving gifts] one year, teary-eyed, more than appreciative, and then the next year I’m going through checks and get a big donation from that same person,” he said. “That’s what I’ll take away from it… and that shows the program works.”