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Trib hopes to gather $115,000 for Operation Santa Claus

| Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010

As more and more families struggle to make ends meet this year, the money required to prepare a holiday meal just isn't there for many in the region.

Since 1984, volunteers for the Tribune-Review's Operation Santa Claus have stepped up to raise funds and provide all of the ingredients for that traditional holiday meal to those in need.

This year, Operation Santa Claus will provide meals for 6,500 families and age-appropriate books for their children. But to do that, the charity needs your help.

The fundraising goal this year is $115,000, said Jeanne Siecinski, the Tribune-Review's credit manager, who serves as president of Operation Santa Claus.

Families will receive all the fixings for a holiday meal and a $10 gift certificate redeemable for a meat item. The grocery bags will be filled with hot cocoa, scalloped potatoes, chicken stuffing mix, snack crackers, holiday cookies, red and green gelatin, sliced peaches, green beans, whole-kernel corn, applesauce and corn muffin mix.

Siecinski said the cost of providing each meal is $16.50, so readers could "sponsor" a family for that amount of money.

While the fundraising officially kicks off today, Siecinski said both employees and outside organizations have already held several events to benefit Operation Santa Claus. Readers also have been lending a helping hand.

"We're really encouraged because even though the campaign hasn't kicked off yet, we've started to receive donations in the mail," she said.

Salvation Army units in a five-county area serve as the conduits for Operation Santa Claus.

The Salvation Army takes applications from people seeking assistance from Operation Santa Claus. The units then distribute the groceries to their clients. Boxes of books are dropped off at each Salvation Army unit where parents can pick books for their kids.

Greensburg Salvation Army Lt. Bryan DeMichael said Operation Santa Claus relieves a great financial burden to not only the recipients but to the Salvation Army by freeing up the charity's money for other critical needs.

"It's so valuable to us because that's where most of our units in our five-county area get the food we hand out for Christmas," DeMichael said.

For the families, the grocery bags mean they will have a holiday meal together.

"For these individuals, Operation Santa Claus is what makes it so they can do that," he said.

Operation Santa Claus is made possible not only by Tribune-Review readers and the volunteers who run the organization, but the independent owners and operators of Shop 'n Save stores in the area, who provide the groceries at a greatly reduced cost.

Chris Mintus, a merchandiser for the Shop 'n Save group, said the stores continue their involvement in Operation Santa Claus because food is their business and they want to help make the holidays a little bit better for those in need.

"It's our business. It's also our neighborhoods and our customers and people in need who are suffering, and the independent retailers are happy to help those that are less fortunate," Mintus said.

Starting today, each edition of the Tribune-Review will include a coupon that readers can use to make donations. Donors can include a brief message that will be printed along with the amount donated.

Your help is greatly appreciated.

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