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Volunteers fill grocery bags for holiday dinner

| Sunday, Dec. 15, 2002

Not even a cold rain and the fear of icy roadways could stop Operation Santa Claus volunteers from their appointed rounds ... and rounds ... and rounds ... .

Indeed, going round and round was the order of the day last week when volunteers visited the Westmoreland County maintenance garage on Donohoe Road. The daunting task was to package all the individual ingredients that make for a delicious and nutritious holiday meal into a single shopping bag for 7,415 less-fortunate families in five western Pennsylvania counties.

The $140,000 campaign bill is paid entirely through the donations of Tribune-Review readers either as individuals or part of groups. Collection continues and every penny is needed.

The volunteer workers represented a cross-section of ages, from high school students to senior citizens. Everyone left with that special feeling associated with having made a contribution to a great cause.

There was plenty of holiday cheer and lots of smiles, but it was still a lot of work.

Volunteers took up various stations. Some packaged the stockings with sweets and treats that would be there on Christmas morning for more than 9,000 children. Others stood in front of each of the food items, strategically placed in the middle of the garage to facilitate a highly efficient assembly line.

One volunteer places five empty grocery bags in shopping carts which are then wheeled around the outside of the products, with others stacking each item as the cart passes by.

The fixings for that meal include whole-kernel corn, green beans, fruit cocktail, applesauce, scalloped potatoes, stuffing, fruit-flavored gelatin, blueberry muffins, snack crackers, holiday cookies and hot coca.

Other volunteers carefully arranged the completed bags in groups for accurate and efficient loading and shipping.

And then the carts re-enter the line for another round of packaging.

"It's a little hectic this year with the weather outside," said Joe Arandas, a Hempfield Township resident who has been helping Operation Santa Claus for nearly a decade. It was Wednesday with a wintry mix of freezing rain and a cold rain slowing travelers on area streets and roadways. "Last year, I was wearing shorts."

"It's my job to make sure everybody gets what they are supposed to get," Arandas said as he walked between two loading areas. "I've got to keep track of any revisions. I need to make sure that each unit gets exactly what they need."

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