New GARDEN >> More than 600 families in southern Chester County, including about 850 children, are getting the Christmas they could only dream about thanks to the generosity of hundreds of local businesses, service organizations, school groups and individuals.

“Today, we’re giving away toys, bikes, coats and even fixings for a Christmas meal,” said Melanie Weiler, executive director of Kennett Area Community Service, which sponsored the 64th annual Christmas Basket program.

And for those who couldn’t make it out, either because of the icy roads or they don’t own a vehicle, volunteers made home deliveries.

Children got to visit Santa, color in coloring books or play games. More than 200 volunteers helped push clients’ groceries and toys to their cars.

Weiler said planning for the event is almost a year-round process that brings every sector of the community together. It begins in March each year as an appeal to the New Garden supervisors, who allow KACS to take over the space at the township maintenance garage for four days each year. The Unionville Bike Drive organizer, Stuart Lindsay, collects over 100 bicycles and coordinates repairs over the summer.

“The Kennett Area Community Service’s Annual Christmas Basket program is a magnificent example of community collaboration to lift those in need during the holidays,” Weiler said. “At KACS, we know it takes the whole community to meet the need and to support long-term efforts to end suffering and build an economically healthy, sustainable community for all.”

The Christmas Baskets consists of a 45-pound box of food. Church support comes in many forms, from St. Patrick’s Church in Kennett Square and their collection of sugar, to Kennett Square’s Church of the Advent potato bagging event, to the rice collection at First Baptist Church.

Preparation for the giveaway kicks off days before as Longwood Rotarians and the Avondale and Kennett Fire Departments folded and taped 600 boxes and staged the garage with rows of tables for the big filling day. Thursday, dozens of students from Charles F. Patton Middle School and their teachers filled each box. Counting and checking each box requires a team of volunteers to ensure accuracy. Volunteer crews from Chatham Financial, Longwood Rotary, First and Second Baptist churches all worked together through Friday afternoon, bagging produce and stacking the 600 boxes.

Drive organizers began planning for the event in August. Toys for Tots organizers, Mike and Debbie Sears reached out to local schools and businesses to collect new, unwrapped toys, so that parents can select a few toys for their children. The Unionville Coat Drive team begin planning with the students to bring in more than 2,000 gently used coats for distribution.

Many groups and individuals support the Christmas Basket program. The Kennett Library collects rice, Longwood Rotary the flour and Willowdale Chapel bags pinto beans. A team of volunteers cook so the 200 volunteers working the day of the event have a hot cup of soup and coffee to stay warm. Giant grocery stores donate use of 20 shopping carts, Trash Tech provides a dumpster and Kennett Friends and the Mission Santa Maria, use of tables and chairs. Private donors provide funds so KACS can purchase large quantities of specific items at a deep discount. Other donors purchase entire quantities of specific items, like the turkeys, chickens, tomatoes, eggs, cardboard boxes and more.

Avondale and Kennett fire departments assisted with traffic on Route 41 while the Honor Bound Motorcycle Ministry passed out the turkeys to each family on their way out. Teen volunteers from Chester County Futures ran a children’s activity area so that parents can select toys for their children without their kids watching.

“It’s incredible to see the gratitude and appreciation of the adults and children,” Weiler said. “We wish everyone in the community could see the incredible result that is the Annual Christmas Basket program.”

KACS, home of the Kennett Food Cupboard, provides food to over 800 households throughout the year. In addition to hunger relief, KACS runs a homeless prevention program to over 300 families and provides permanent housing solutions for 60-80 homeless households each year. For more information, contact 610-925-3556 or visit www.kacsonline.net.

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