The spirit of Christmas

| 22 Feb 2012 | 03:44

Presents for soldiers overseas, Christmas dinners at home and pajamas for warmth are among the many acts of kindness the community offers others this season, By Nancy Kriz MONROE - Music blasted loudly as pizza slices were passed around to the student Santas of Monroe-Woodbury High School’s “Students Supporting Our Soldiers” Club on Tuesday afternoon. Piles of Priority Mail boxes filled the room as the group worked to pack up mounds of packages destined first for the post office and eventually points overseas. The group’s mission was to take the items donated by high school students, faculty and the community and send them to military service personnel with ties to Monroe-Woodbury High School. They were either graduates or family members of students or faculty, according to organizers. Once the boxes were packed, they would be divided equally between the names club members acquired over the past months. The plan was to purposely ship the gifts so that they would arrive after Christmas. That way, should any of the recipients not get a lot of gifts during the holiday season, these care packages would come as a surprise and hopefully spread some good cheer. And, if they did get a lot for the holidays, those service men would be in for a treat of getting even more, which they could share with anyone they’d like, the students explained. The club’s efforts are among the many groups, organizations and individuals looking to make a difference in the lives of others this holiday season. “My godmother’s son is in the service,” said Kawani Waynick. “I like helping out. I like the whole idea of this.” Students and faculty donated the items and the range of gifts ran the gamut of boxes of cereal to candy, cookies and DVDs. “I know the troops are over there and missing their families,” said Benny Quartey. “I think it’s really cool to help them out. We get to be with our families and they don’t.” Mike Gerencser was hopeful the packages would remind soldiers they are not forgotten. “After they get this stuff, I hope they’ll feel excited that they got something,” he said. “It lets them know the students back home are thinking of them. I think it’s really nice. They can have the Crusader pride wherever they go.” Christmas dinner at home When the Monroe Food Pantry on Maple Avenue needs assistance packing for the annual food boxes it prepares for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, one call to the Monroe Community Girl Scouts brings out enough volunteers to get the job done promptly. Last Friday, six troops gathered in the community room at the Monroe United Methodist Church and in two hours’ time, packed up 156 boxes for needy families searching for a special Christmas dinner. “If it weren’t for the Girl Scouts, I don’t think we’d get it all done,” said Robert Jankelunas, a long-time food pantry volunteer who is also its ad hoc procurement manager. “From the goodness of their hearts, they come out to help us pack.” The need is tremendous, explained Jankelunas. The number of Christmas boxes jumped up to 155 from 135 last year. The Monroe Food Pantry provides food to 225 families monthly, up from 50 families monthly two years ago. “We get a lot of new families showing up each week,” he added. “And for Christmas, maybe they can get by but they don’t have enough (extra money) to do that big meal. Whatever they make, their paycheck won’t cover it. When it comes to a special occasion, they don’t have the ability to do anything extra.” And so, the Christmas meal boxes - distributed last Saturday - will go a long way to making a special day for those coping with the financial stresses in their lives. “There are some stories which make you cry out of happiness because you can help, and there are others where you cry because of the circumstances,” said Jankelunas. “We hope that everyone will sit down (tomorrow) and enjoy a nice, family Christmas dinner.” The food pantry gets its food from individual or group donations or the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley. It uses cash donations to buy the food is not acquired by these means. Jankelunas expects a bill for $1,200 for just the Christmas hams. He’s grateful to everyone who had a part in making the annual Christmas dinner boxes a reality. “The one thing I see more and more is there are people who are willing to help,” Jankelunas said. “People are just recognizing that the economy is in bad shape and they are stepping up to help. That’s a great feeling.” Pajama Santa In preparation for the special Christmas dinner at Our Father’s Kitchen tomorrow, the soup kitchen serving the area and based at Sacred Heart Chapel in Monroe, Washingtonville resident Arlene Isseks is having a pajama “wrap-a-thon” with her friends and family today. She’ll need a lot of paper and tape too, as there’s 200 sets of pajamas to wrap. And the pajamas come in all sizes - from newborn to size 14/16 - and will be take-home gifts for all the children coming to Christmas dinner at the kitchen. Organizers are planning for over 200 people to attend the Christmas feast, cooked and served by volunteers from the Monroe Temple. It’s the second year temple members have prepared Christmas dinner for soup kitchen patrons. Temple officials said they were thrilled to assist in this ongoing community outreach effort and equally happy to allow their Christian colleagues to stay home and celebrate Christmas with their families. Isseks, whose family is a member of the temple, was initially asked to help out by collecting some new pajamas. After all, organizers felt, what child couldn’t use a new set of pajamas? The pajama collection blossomed into a community service project for her forthcoming Bat Mitzvah, and the numbers of pajamas grew as word spread. Temple families and students from Goshen High School’s economics class (taught by Isseks’ father) responded generously. From Sponge Bob to Disney Princess and everything in between, Isseks now has a range of nightwear to keep any child warm and happy. “A little act of kindness can go a long way,” Isseks said. “Let’s start a chain reaction with a simple pair of pajamas.” It makes no difference that Isseks’ Bat Mitzvah project is geared toward a Christmas event. “Some kids don’t have a lot,” Isseks said. “Something like this might make them feel good, and know that someone cares.” She hopes her project inspires others to give back and help others in need. “Think about what’s important,” said Isseks. “Some kids aren’t as lucky as others and may not have as much as someone else. Everyone should know that it’s important to do the right thing.”

The one thing I see more and more is there are people who are willing to help. People are just recognizing that the economy is in bad shape and they are stepping up to help. That’s a great feeling.” Robert Jankelunas, a long-time volunteer at the Monroe Food Pantry

Lending a packing hand
The Monroe Food Pantry on Maple Avenue prepared 156 boxes filled with the fixings for a complete Christmas dinner: smoked ham, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, canned vegetables, cranberry sauce pie, rolls, soup, and juice.
Getting those boxes prepared last Friday, Dec. 17 - for distribution the next day - required a coordinated effort, with 85 to 90 percent of the packing done by troops representing the Monroe Community Girl Scouts:
Troop 173: Arianna Perez, Jessica Kiesel, Khushi Prabhakar, Jade Kwinn, Taylor Symonette. Leaders Myra Gonzalez and Cristina Kiesel.
Troop 202: Prachi Shah, Jyoti Khanna, Erin Cytryn, Alexis Newman, Jaclyn Imhof, Kendall Fioranti, and Katarina Woods. Leader: Tanya Woods.
Troop 640: Isabelle Woods
Troop 502: Alaina Neubauer, Abby Ridgeway, Heleena Anastos, Jessica Cueva-Scarpelli, Kristen Neyer, Kristen Fisher, Alanah Abraham, Julia Auerfeld and Lauren Walsh. Troop 502 adult helpers: Lou Anastos, Gregg Ridgeway, Peter Neubauer, Teri Cueva, Anne Scarpelli, Edna Auerfeld, Laurie Neyer, Margaret Neubauer and Mike Abraham. Troop 502 sibling helpers: Kelsey Neubauer, Owen Neubauer, Aedan Neubauer, Joseph Cueva-Scarpelli, George Anastos, and Maylynne Auerfeld. Troop 502 also helped with distribution on Dec. 18.
Baking cookies and wrapping presents for the children of the Monroe Food Pantry recipients:
Troop 399: Taylor Earle, Britney Klippel, Shannon Szynkowski, Liz Schuler, Crystal Young, Samantha Vasco, Aly Hoyt, Olivia Baum, Megan Fernandez and Haley Conroy. Leaders: Stacy Earle, Sydney Klippel, Jody Baum, Jodi Hoyt, Loretta Conroy and Sandra Vasco.
Also wrapping presents and coordinating the distribution of presents:
Troop 430: Kristen Claudio, Abbey McMahon, Danielle Fox, Kelly Doering, Nadalin Cromwell, Noelle Pavlu and Jennifer Hart. Leaders: Laura Edwards and Donna McMahon.