Lodge's giving brightens Christmas for many families

December 22, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

WILLIAMSPORT ? Not all Christmas gifts are packages tucked under the tree.

Some come from the heart ? unexpected but most appreciated.

Just ask Freda Bridges of Hagerstown, who received a basket of food for her family Saturday morning, thanks to members of the Williamsport Red Men Tribe 84.

"This means a lot," the young mother said. "I'm grateful someone wants to help my family during a tight season."

Bridges was among a steady stream of area residents who stopped by the Red Men's lodge on Lappans Road to pick up baskets of food, toys and clothing for the holidays.

Without the local organization's help, an emotional Bridges said, it might not be a very merry Christmas at her house.

"I have four children," she said. "We wouldn't have a meal like this on Christmas without the kindness of others. I work a full-time job and still wouldn't be able to afford this."


The distribution of food baskets has been a charitable project of the club for the past four years, said Tom Burke, president of the Williamsport Red Men's organization.

"This is what Christmas is all about," he said. "There are so many good people in our community who struggle to make ends meet. We're thrilled to be able to help out."

The holiday project was the idea of member Bob Cromis, who as a truck driver said he saw a great deal of poverty as he traveled across the country.

"I started thinking that there are a lot of people in our own backyard who could use a little help, especially at Christmas," he said. "No one should go hungry."

Cromis approached other members with his thoughts and the project soon became a reality.

"We contacted local agencies for names of people in need, coordinated our efforts and began shopping," said Burke. "Our first year, we had baskets for 50 families. This year, we're helping 125 families."

About 30 volunteer members packed the food baskets with everything you would typically serve for Christmas dinner, Burke said, including turkey, pumpkin pie, bread, milk and canned vegetables.

For families with children, there were also gifts of toys and clothing.

Money to support the annual project comes from fundraisers and organization profits, he said.

"Our members work really hard to make this day successful," said Burke. "There's a lot of planning and legwork. But it's also very rewarding."

"It reminds you of the true meaning of Christmas," Cromis said. "The best time I ever had was three years ago when I was delivering a basket to a family in Hagerstown. The man saw me coming, ran out of his house in his bare feet and threw his arms around me. I'll never forget that."

"I can't say enough about these guys," said Millie Lowman of the Parent-Child Center, one of the participating agencies. "I have 40 families who participate in this project ? 40 families who normally wouldn't have a Christmas dinner. This is their Christmas dinner."

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