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'This is what Christmas is all about'

The Herald-Mail Company partners with area businesses to spread the joy of Christmas

The Herald-Mail Company partners with area businesses to spread the joy of Christmas

December 22, 2005|by ALICIA NOTARIANNI

Nine-year-old Melissa said Saturday, Dec. 17, was the best day of her life.

"Well, I got my wish of having a beanbag chair and the only other thing I wanted - books, books, books!" she said.

Melissa's brother, Bobby, 7, sat on the lap of Santa Claus Saturday for the first time in his life, then opened a gift of a shiny black bicycle with red and silver trim.

Two teachers from Melissa and Bobby's school took them to The Herald-Mail Co.s' "Letters to Santa" party Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Discovery Station in downtown Hagerstown.

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Scott Stavrakas, advertising director at The Herald-Mail Co., said the idea for the party arose during a business meeting of Schurz Communications Inc. last spring. Stavrakas said he learned that The Herald-Mail's South Bend, Ind.-based sister newspaper, The South Bend Tribune, raised money to host a party for children through the sales of advertisements.

"I said, 'We need to do that here,'" Stavrakas said.

Stavrakas worked with Susan Snyder, executive assistant to the publisher and editor, and Michele Wills, marketing director, to develop and execute a plan for the party. The plan was to use payments from businesses that purchased holiday-themed advertisements as donations to buy Christmas presents for children.

John League, publisher and editor of The Herald-Mail Co., supported the idea.

"It's a neat way for the paper and for advertisers to partner and do something good for the community," League said. "This is what Christmas is all about."

The Parent-Child Center, Girls Inc., Boys and Girls Club, and Bester and Fountain Rock elementary schools identified children who would benefit from the effort and provided The Herald-Mail Co. with "Letters to Santa," complete with gift wish lists. Snyder led a team of Herald-Mail volunteers, who spent $5,000 in advertising donations shopping for 44 children.

"Honestly, just watching the kids, hearing their stories, knowing that they needed it. This was a labor of love, giving individual care to each list," Snyder said.

Wills contacted B. Marie Byers, president of Discovery Station's board of directors and the museum's interim director, who was eager to partner on the project.

"Discovery Station made it educational and fun," Stavrakas said.

Volunteers from The Herald-Mail and Discovery Station arranged groups of approximately 10 children. The groups took turns at stations making holiday crafts such as iced and decorated sugar cookies, and Christmas-themed slap bracelets and gift bags.

Eleven-year-old Blake, who went to the party with his twin brother, Brandon, said his favorite activity was having his picture taken and making a frame for it.

"I'm going to take it home and give it to my mom for Christmas," Blake said.

Eva Herring of Hagerstown took her grandchildren, Lexi, 4, and Alec, 5, to the party. Herring said her daughter, Lexi and Alec's mother, died four years ago this week. On the anniversary of her death, the children released balloons into the sky.

"The only thing Alec asked Santa for was a Monster truck and to make sure to get the balloons to heaven for his mom," Herring said.

An 8-year-old girl named Taylor hung around as the party wound down, marveling over her new Bratz doll and cheerfully chatting with Santa as her 17-year-old sister, Ellesse0 , looked on.

"It's lovely what they did for these kids," Ellesse said.

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