The Committee for Helping Others brought some early holiday joy to more than 100 needy families last weekend during their annual holiday effort.
This year's event, held Saturday had the largest turnout of the organization's more than 40-year existence: a total of 419 kids, 80 of whom were teenagers, were given bikes, helmets, toys, gift cards, clothing and food. In all, 125 families came to the church throughout the day for assistance.
In the beginning, CHO began just giving out meals to families that needed them during the holidays. But the event has grown to include bikes, toys and other Christmas gifts to kids and their families from Vienna and other parts of Fairfax County who need them.
"I came along about 21 years ago, and we were still doing real food and we were getting stuffed animals and crayons and coloring books and jump ropes and just small things," Carolyn Myzel, a member CHO who oversees the annual holiday event said. "Year by year people in the community would want to help and they'd start donating some things to us, and guess what, it grew into a big program," Myzel added.
The county assists CHO by providing a list of families who qualify for food and monetary assistance. CHO, true to the event's founding mission, still gives out meals, but has switched to a grocery card option to accommodate families with unique needs.
The annual event has become so big that local government offices, church and community organizations have assisted the Vienna-based organization with toys and other items for kids and their families.
Town of Vienna Mayor Jane Seeman volunteered at the Sunday event, as she has for the past decade. Tim Fricker, owner of Bikes at Vienna, says his shop participated this year by fixing up bikes donated to the program. A local citizen purchased helmets from the shop to go along with them, he said.
CHO will continue giving out items through Christmas.
Throughout the year, CHO tries to keep in touch with the families and provide assistance for rent, electric bills, doctor bills and any other assistance they are able to provide. In recent years the number of qualifying families has grown as the economy continues to suffer, making the annual event a great option for parents who can't afford to give their kids everything on their Christmas wish list.
Even as gifts run out, Myzel said, there are always ways the organization can help those who need it.
"We do free furniture, free clothes, free food and we oversee Meals on Wheels ... we do transportation to doctors appointments," Myzel said. "Right now we're picking up people that didn't know they could get help."