Union Aid gift-card drive could help hundreds

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Members of the Union Aid Society of Sewickley are asking local residents to pause for a moment from placing ornaments on their own Christmas trees this year to instead take some off other trees.

Sherri Leifman, Union Aid executive director, said those who want to help a family this holiday can take one or several of the more than 200 ornaments from one of the society trees located at Sewickley Public Library, Sewickley Confectionery, Pendleton, Starbucks, Safran's, Sincerely Yogurt and Sewickley Valley YMCA.

They then can return the ornaments with their donations to the Union Aid Society's office in the Sewickley Borough Building at 601 Thorn St.

Some ornaments will indicate the gender and age of a child so a donor can purchase a gift card from an appropriate store. There also are requests for grocery-store gift cards for senior citizens and families.

Leifman said the need this year is greater than ever.

“There have been recent cutbacks in federal benefit programs, such as food stamps,” she said.

“Unemployment compensation benefits for many people have expired. Our economy continues to suffer, as do the working poor, families with children, and disabled and elderly people.”

Leifman said the society, which serves all 11 municipalities in the Quaker Valley School District, updated its longstanding holiday gift-donation program to a gift-card donation program in 2008.

Gretchen Burnham of Bell Acres, society board president, said Union Aid volunteers used to purchase gifts for families before gift cards were available. By giving gift cards, families can go out and buy their own gifts for their children.

“And we have heard from clients that they appreciate it that they are able to choose,” she said.

Last year Union Aid's Thanksgiving program distributed about $3,000 in grocery-store gift cards to almost 200 people. The holiday gift-card program last year included more than $10,000 in gift cards to 155 people.

Union Aid receives donations from giving-tree programs at St. James Catholic Church in Sewickley and Sewickley Presbyterian Church. Leifman said many people find out about Union Aid through word of mouth — from friends and neighbors who have been assisted by Union Aid.

“We have a good relationship with the other organizations and churches in the community, as well as with the school district and health care providers who refer people in need to Union Aid,” she said.

“Some people call after having seen one of our holiday trees in the community to inquire about assistance for their family. We work very hard to get the word out not only to reach potential supporters and donors but to make sure that anyone in the community who might need our help knows that we are here for them.”

She said Union Aid would like to have holiday donations in by Dec. 18; however, because the society provides assistance all year, donations are welcome at any time.

Participants can donate online through the agency's website, www.unionaidsociety.org, or by sending a check to the Union Aid office.

The society, which has been providing assistant in the Quaker Valley community since 1898, served about 100 families last year with counseling and referral services, as well as financial assistance for rent and mortgage costs and help with medical expenses, utilities, food, summer camp and tutoring.

It has provided support for the Quaker Valley community youth worker's discretionary fund, QV school lunch program and after-school programs, enrichment and remedial classes for children, and college scholarships. In addition, Union Aid owns and subsidizes a 22-unit apartment building for senior citizens in the Village.

For more information, contact the Union Aid office at 412-741-9240.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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