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Workers at prison meet call

December 18, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories running on the 12 days before Christmas to recognize individuals and groups who make the holidays better for others.

Christmas is a good time for 5-year-old Megan Gelsinger - maybe too good, her mother thought.

"As she got older, with the amount of Christmas presents every year - (from) parents, aunts, grandparents - she was getting pretty much everything she wanted," Denise Gelsinger said. "It started to bother me a bit."

Gelsinger wondered: What happens to children in families with meager incomes, those for whom Santa Claus can't be generous?

Gelsinger, the public information officer at the Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown, decided last year to take the Salvation Army's Christmas Angel donation program into the prison.


She picked up 25 names. Her co-workers snapped them up, forcing her to get four more.

"This year, we said we'd do even better," Gelsinger said. "I lost count at 45. It's probably close to 60."

Gelsinger said the Salvation Army told her that it needed clothing more than toys, so Roxbury employees bought clothes for the children they adopted.

Separately, Gelsinger bought to give to the Salvation Army 15 coats for $7 each, including a deep discount. She described the coats as "not real thick, but all-weather. You'd wear them (when it's) 30 degrees versus 0 degrees."

Her co-workers paid for 10 more coats from a Christmas party fund. They also bought 15 to 20 winter outfits and about 30 toys when the Salvation Army discovered that the need was greater than the organization expected.

"It's much bigger than I ever imagined," said Gelsinger, a Washington County native who lives with her husband Ed and their daughter just across the Maryland border in Franklin County, Pa. "We have generous employees, but I had no idea how much people would get into this."

Several employees with no children or with grown children participated. Some took one name home and bought gifts, then asked for a second name.

Gelsinger said the Roxbury staff may challenge the other two prisons south of Hagerstown to see who can contribute the most to the Christmas Angel program next year.

Now, when Gelsinger buys gifts for her daughter in October and November, she buys Christmas Angel toys, too.

"Anything that was deeply discounted I stashed in my walk-in closet that you can't walk into (anymore)," she said.

Beneficence has been a comfort.

"It just makes you feel so much better," she said. "It does ease some of the guilt. I know it's a selfish way to put it, but it does."

Megan helped package some of the outfits. Her mother would ask for a size 2T or 3T. Megan would find the size and hand it over.

"She wants to know why Santa can't just give them clothes and toys," Denise Gelsinger said. "I said, 'Santa can only do so much.'"

Tomorrow: Pat Velten and Citicorp Credit Services' "Adopt A Family Committee"

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