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'Happy tears'

AngelFISH program delivers Christmas to 278 local kids

AngelFISH volunteer Val Cass makes sure a stray pony gets to his new home safely. (click for larger version)
December 16, 2009 - Some parents carried the packages to their cars, and returned to Myrick Hall at St. Joseph's Church in tears.

But they were "happy tears," as Elizabeth Ballard was quick to point out.

"One woman said 'I just can't believe the beautiful gifts I have for my children now. I didn't have anything to give them,'" she said.

A long-time volunteer with FISH—a nonprofit organization assisting needy families in Orion, Oxford and Addison townships—Ballard was one of dozens who worked to coordinate this year's AngelFISH program.

Now in its eighth season, the program ensured that 278 kids from 122 local families will find gifts under the tree come Christmas morning.

"We had more kids than last year, but luckily we had more donors, too," said Linda Gyorkey, a member of the AngelFISH committee. "This is a very generous community. The way the economy is, I fully expected people to say 'I know I helped out last year, but I just can't do it this time.'"

But the organization heard from plenty of people willing to "adopt" a child—or several.

"FISH has a wonderful reputation in Oxford and Orion," said Val Cass, a FISH volunteer who also served on the committee. "And our donors know these children live right here in their community."

Cass, who also volunteers her time at the agency's food pantry, said the organization has seen 33 percent more families than last year coming in to ask for help with everyday essentials like food

"I've heard people say 'A year ago I would never have imagined myself here. I've used up all my resources and I don't have anything left.'"

The AngelFISH program matches children from those families with those willing to give.

Donors receive clothing size and color information and a list of gifts on their "adopted" child's wish list.

Once the shopping is complete, donors drop off gifts at Myrick Hall, where items are sorted and grouped by families.

The recipients picked up their packages Saturday.

"We always hear the thank-yous" she said. "But this year we did something a little different and set out paper so the clients could write little thank you messages themselves. Many of them wrote that their children wouldn't have had a Christmas without the program."

Lake Orion Review Editor
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