26th PAL hosts Christmas party thanks to generosity of St. Anne’s Operation Santa.
By Melissa Komar
It looked like a scene straight out of Santa’s workshop the Tuesday before Christmas at the 26th District PAL.
Elves painted faces, Santa posed for pictures, children decorated ornaments, and shiny new bikes were parked in front of the stage.
The center, which opened in the former St. Anne Elementary School gym in March, hosted its first Christmas party for its members thanks to a generous donation from St. Anne’s Operation Santa.
The parish-based fundraising group had delivered toys to 40 to 60 families every Christmas Eve for more than 40 years.
Previously, volunteers from the group would spend an entire morning at the Port Richmond Toys R Us, filling carts with enough gifts to fill a U-Haul.
But, when its single-stop Santa shopping spot closed this year, the group decided to redirect its funds, but still stick to its overall mission: giving back to the community.
Jeannie Post, 54, one of the coordinators of St. Anne’s Operation Santa, started helping out when she was 15.
“We’ve been doing it so long. The fact it didn’t end,” she said, choking up in between serving pizza,” “It’s Christmas. This is Christmas. It’s hard for us on Christmas Eve not doing what we used to, but this makes it better.”
The 45 PAL members who participated in the festivities clearly appreciated it.
“The party is great,” said Nevaeh Bonilla, 9. “It’s amazing what they did and great they did it for all the kids.”
“It’s awesome,” added Billy Miller, 11. “I like you how you can take pictures.”
Aside from each child receiving either a bicycle, 76ers jersey and basketball, or insta flix camera, depending on their age, Santa and Mrs. Claus were available for instant print photos, stockings were filled for each kid, and pizza, cupcakes, and gingerbread men decorating kits were in abundance.
Everything was covered by Operation Santa.
PAL center directors police officers Brad Deeley and Francine Whitfield organized the party and shopped for the gifts.
“It was nice to help put a smile on the kids’ faces,” said Deeley. “I think it was a surprise to all of them, and they had no idea what to expect from the party. It felt good to be able to help out the children and see the joy and Christmas spirit on their faces.”
Sharing the spirit of the season with PAL kids was top priority, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the community’s support, especially Operation Santa, which receives the bulk of its funds from a social hosted at St. Anne’s parish and donations from St. Anne’s parishioners.
“The local community support means the world to us. We service a lot of children here at PAL, the more help we receive the better impact we can have with the kids in the community,” said Deeley. “Father Skip and St. Anne’s have been very supportive and helped us since day one.”
For the Operation Santa committee, community is the heart of it all.
“We’re still fundraising and giving back. It’s still neighborhood kids being helped,” said co-coordinator Jen Rivera, 38. “We still wanted to do something. That was the goal.” ••