Catholic Charities brings a Merry Christmas to teenagers

By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor

BINGHAMTON — There are lots of different kinds of gifts one can donate to a child in need: stuffed animals, toy trains, baby dolls. But what about that child’s older brother or sister? Who will provide teenagers with a happy Christmas morning?

Catholic Charities of Broome County has organized a successful program called Christmas Giving Program for Teens to collect gifts for young people ages 13 to 18.

“We started the Christmas giving program for teens because Toys for Tots is very active in the area,” said Marsha Maroney, development officer at Catholic Charities of Broome County. But Toys for Tots provides presents for children only up to the age of 12.

Maroney said unemployment and underemployment is forcing many new families to turn to Catholic Charities for help at Christmas. Those in need provided a wish list of gifts for their children when they signed up for their Thanksgiving food baskets.

Until last year, there were around 500 families signing up for the program. But starting in 2009 that number jumped to around 600.

“We can’t do this by ourselves,” Maroney said. “That’s way too much.”

So in addition to direct donations from area families and parishes, Catholic Charities relies on help from several companies and non-profit groups.

The gift collection season kicks off in September with a birthday party given by 10th grade Maine-Endwell student Brooke Bart. Each year, she invites around 200 people to a themed party and asks that they bring a new, unwrapped gift for a teenager and non-perishable food items in lieu of gifts for herself.

This year’s party brought in over 500 Christmas gifts for teens and 350 food items.

Clear Channel Radio stations host performances in which local bands donate their time and all proceeds go toward buying gifts on the Catholic Charities wish lists.

Clear Channel also hosts a turkey trailer which takes donations of frozen turkeys for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for those in need. Maroney said there has been about a 30 percent increase in requests for food.

“This year we were really, really holding our breath because the year before we only made 11 over our goal — which is scary,” Maroney said.

This year, however, the goal was 3,460 turkeys and they received 4,306. Every single one will be given to a family in need through the many charity organizations that rely on Catholic Charities.

The Christmas Giving Program for Teens also received $6,000 worth of gifts from the Binghamton Harley Owner’s Group.

“They went to Toys ‘R’ Us with a list and filled up 27 shopping carts with 20 people shopping,” Maroney said. “They actually spend $12,000 and split it between us and Toys for Tots.”

Parents will come to pick up the gifts for their children on Monday, Dec. 20 and Tuesday, Dec. 21. When they arrive, they’ll find bags with their name filled with gifts. “And they’ll be given all the wrapping paper they need and they’re given a turkey for Christmas dinner,” Maroney said.

If the family has children who are not yet teenagers, parents will also be able to choose gifts for them. “We don’t just provide for the teenagers in the family,” Maroney said, “if a family comes in and they have three teens and a 10 year-old we’ll provide for the 10 year-old as well.”

Catholic Charities will be accepting donations of gifts at their food pantry, located at 100 Main St. in Binghamton, until Monday, Dec. 20. The food pantry can be reached at (607) 723-4563.

Gifts needed include gift cards in $10 or $15 increments for Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Target, family board games, handheld electronic games, CDs, hoodies, fleece vests, pajama pants and sports equipment like footballs and basketballs.

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