Saint Vincent College students shop for gifts for youngsters in need
'Twas 6:30 a.m., and all through Westmoreland County, hardly a creature was stirring — except for about 150 Saint Vincent College students, most of them future teachers, who volunteered Saturday to shop for gifts that will be donated to children in need this holiday season.
“If you're a teacher, that's always the first thing on your mind, helping your kids in any way that you can,” said Courtney Kloos, a junior studying English and high school education.
She and her classmates spent the morning volunteering with the SVC Wraps for Kids program, which coordinated the early morning shopping trip to the Mountain Laurel Plaza Kmart in Unity.
SVC Wraps for Kids began about five years ago to assist the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau, which works to support children in the welfare system, with its yearly Westmoreland County Holiday Coat and Present Program.
Kathleen Beining, professor of education at Saint Vincent, coordinates SVC Wraps for Kids.
“We really do this event to help the Children's Bureau and also to help our students understand that they're going into a service profession,” Beining said.
This year, Saint Vincent students shopped for about 300 children and had a budget of $50 to $70 per child. Funding for the gifts comes from fundraising by SVC Wraps for Kids along with donations managed by the Children's Bureau advisory board, Westmoreland Children First. Students do not know who they're shopping for, but caseworkers from the Children's Bureau provide information to guide the purchases, such as age, gender and whether the child is in need of winter clothing.
Students will gather Sunday to wrap the gifts, and the packages will be transported to the Westmoreland County Courthouse, where the Saint Vincent College men's lacrosse team will unload them. Children's Bureau caseworkers will distribute the packages to families.
Although it's a busy weekend for the volunteers, students like Journie Crutchman, a sophomore studying early childhood education, said it's her favorite shopping excursion of the holiday season. She spent Saturday morning selecting the perfect toys for toddlers — something both fun and educational.
“I think anyone can do this, even if you're not in the education department,” Crutchman said.
Saint Vincent College is one of 64 organizations that partner with the Children's Bureau on the holiday gift program, said Shara Saveikis, executive director of the Children's Bureau.
“The entire process has provided a tremendous amount of support to our agency in enhancing this program,” Saveikis said of SVC Wraps for Kids. “They've really been a huge assistance for it.”
Last year, the Children's Bureau holiday gift program provided presents for 1,357 children throughout the county, and the SVC Wraps for Kids program distributed presents to 210 children.
That's about 400 more children than the program served in 2015, Saveikis said.
Those numbers could continue to grow this year: So far, the Children's Bureau has provided presents for 1,145 children.
In the past, individual Children's Bureau volunteers would do all of the shopping, said Michelle Brant, casework supervisor at the agency. She has coordinated the holiday gift program since 2005. But over the years, as word spread and need grew, organizations from all corners of the community have joined the effort to make the holidays a little merrier for children throughout the county.
Children's Bureau volunteers will continue shopping through Christmas Eve, said Kathleen Daniele, board president at Westmoreland Children First.
In addition to providing gifts, the Children's Bureau is working to donate winter coats to children in need. It has supplied more than 300 coats so far this season, Daniele said.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.