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Community aids Salvation Army of Ligonier in holiday collection

| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 9:03 p.m.
Salvation Army of Ligonier Chapter Chairwoman Mitzi Neiderhiser and volunteer Russ Fenton of Ligonier, help unload a truck of canned goods purchased to help families during the holidays.
Cami DiBattista | for the Ligonier Echo
Salvation Army of Ligonier Chapter Chairwoman Mitzi Neiderhiser and volunteer Russ Fenton of Ligonier, help unload a truck of canned goods purchased to help families during the holidays.

Many local residents, businesses and churches are pulling together to assist with the Salvation Army's Christmas Baskets and Treasures for Children program — an annual holiday toy and food drive for the holiday season.

“We're so blessed to have a community that's willing to work with us and reach out to those families who may not otherwise have a Christmas,” said Mitzi Neiderhiser, the Salvation Army of Ligonier chapter chairwoman. “We have a lot of really good participation.”

Local establishments throughout the community have displayed “Treasure Trees” with wish list items for local children. Those interested in participating chose a tag and purchased the requested gift, which typically ranged in price from $15 - $20.

On Saturday the gifts, collected by the Ligonier Salvation Army's Distribution Center, along with a large basket of food will be distributed to each family signed up for the program.

“We want to show the children that someone is thinking about them,” Neiderhiser said of the 225 children enrolled in this year's program.

“It's great knowing that we make some kids so happy on Christmas morning opening their gifts,” said Carol Cassler owner of Carol and Dave's Roadhouse. “After all, Christmas is for the kids.”

Cassler said when her staff sees the tickets with the children's names come in to the restaurant, they know Christmas is around the corner.

“We all enjoy participating,” she said. “The tickets are usually gone within a week.”

Dan and Beverly McMaster, owners of Ligonier Outfitters and Newsstand, said their family has been participating for more than 30 years.

“It's a tradition for us,” said Beverly McMaster. “We donate a bike every year. When our children were little, they would always chose the tag of a child their age and then pick out a gift for them.”

The program is successful due to community participation and the hard work of the organization's volunteers.

“This program has come to mean so much to me over the years,” said Neiderhiser. “It's nice to be able to give back to this wonderful community; it's an incredible thing to be a part of.”

Dianne Stewart, owner of Abigail's Coffeehouse, agrees.

“We feel it is a wonderful, much needed program and we are happy to be a part of it,” said Stewart. “Our customers are the best — very giving.”

Giant Eagle's cash office manager Pat Marsh said the store has been participating for a number of years both with a Treasure Tree and by greatly discounting bulk food purchases made by the Salvation Army.

“Between employees and customers, we do very well every year,” said Marsh. “We want to help the kids. And all the participation is good for the community as well.”

Ligonier Valley High School students and teachers are another group that does its best to assist the Salvation Army with the holiday program.

Members of the school's Junior ROTC program conducted a food drive to collect non-perishable items and the student council sponsored 50 children this year.

“Homerooms and teachers eagerly volunteer,” said Marsha Ackerman, who teaches math at the school. “Students really enjoy buying for someone else. It provides them with an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate they are and to help others. It's refreshing to see our students work so hard to get the gifts that are asked for. They want that child to have a good Christmas.”

The Salvation Army's Red Kettle program, currently set up outside of the Ligonier Giant Eagle and the Bi-Lo in Seward, also brings in funds to help at Christmas time and throughout the year. The kettles offer an opportunity for individuals to donate what they can.

“This is our main local fundraiser and we receive most of our donations during this period,” Neiderhiser said. “We greatly appreciate whatever amount people can offer.”

Neiderhiser said more volunteers are needed to help ring the bell. Those interested in donating a few hours of their time can leave a message at the distribution center at 724-238-8654. The program will continue throughout the month of December.

“We don't set out with a goal in mind, but are thrilled with whatever people are able to give,” said Neiderhiser, who added that even with the economic struggles of the last few years, donations have remained consistent.

Several participating businesses collect items throughout the year to donate during the holiday season.

Idlewild Park and SoakZone offers admission discounts multiple times over the season to customers who donate non perishable food items.

“It has become a tradition for many guests who visit Idlewild to donate canned food items,” said Jeff Croushore, sales and public relations manager. “We are pleased to be able to assist the Ligonier Salvation Army and we are happy to play the intermediary between giver and receiver for this very worthy cause.”

In addition to gifts and food, the Ligonier Salvation Army will also be passing out cold weather items such as hats, mittens and scarves.

Members of the Laurel Highlands Knitting Guild, which includes many Ligonier residents, collected and donated nearly 300 items.

“Half of them we made ourselves and half are new store bought items we've collected,” said Kathy Zimmerman, owner of Kathy's Kreations and the organization's president.

Zimmerman said the organization collects items all year long and then chooses a local agency to donate to.

“This year we chose the Salvation Army,” said Zimmerman. “It's really nice that people here are willing to share their skills and do something good for the community.”

Because of the large amount of items that were received, Neiderhiser said the Salvation Army will be able to give to some elderly members of the community, as well as the children.

“We're very excited to be able to do that,” Neiderhiser said. “All the hard work that goes into the program is always worth it. It's incredible to see what this community can accomplish working together.”

Cami DiBattista is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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