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Salvation Army spreads Christmas cheer in Franklin Co.

December 25, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- "You know, Blanche DuBois in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' told Stanley she depends on the kindness of strangers. Well, so do I. And you know what? They come through. The come through in a big way," Lynne Newman said.

Outside the room where Newman retreated for a moment of quiet, organized chaos sounded in the voices of those strangers as they rustled wrapping paper, and clanked pots and pans as they worked to bring Christmas alive.

Even as she enjoyed a break from the go-go-go, the noise was music to Newman's ears.

For years, she has organized volunteers and donors through The Salvation Army in Chambersburg to bring Christmas to people in Franklin County, Pa., who otherwise would not have food or company on the holiday.

"I have been doing this for 18 years, and I have people who will come in and do anything you will ask them to," Newman said. "It is amazing."

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Starting as early as 5:30 a.m., volunteers carved out their corner of The Salvation Army's multipurpose room to wrap presents and stake out their ladles for serving food. Others warmed cars and made sure gas tanks were full for delivering meals.

"This, right here, this is what Christmas is about," said Loretta Sobrito of Shippensburg, Pa., a first-time volunteer for the dinner. "Everyone is here for the same common reason -- to help someone else."

The dinner has become as much of a blessing for the volunteers as it is for the more than 600 people who typically enjoy the meal, Newman said.

Helping on Christmas often is a family affair, as was the case for Nicole Sarsok and her two children.

As a local college student and single mother, Sarsok was unable to get home to Chicago for Christmas.

Raised to give to those in need, Sarsok said she wanted to teach her children to value volunteering as much as she did when she was little.

"We got up in the morning and she (mom) said, 'I used to do this when I was young and I want to teach you how to do it,' so we went," said Sarsok's daughter, Grace Sislow, 10. "And I was pretty happy when I got here. I wasn't happy about getting up so early, but I was happy about helping a lot of people."

"Christmas is not just about getting presents, it is about giving thanks and (giving) to the poor," said Sarsok's son, Michael Sislow, 8.

Sarsok beamed with pride at her children as they spoke of the joy of giving.

Across the room, Dawn Schoenenbeger of Chambersburg was savoring the moment with two of her children.

With at least one of her children unable to make it home for the holiday, she said she wanted to try something different this Christmas.

"This is definitely the way to do it. It feels great to give to others," Schoenenbeger said. "When I walked in, I was just amazed by how many people are here."

Newman estimated that 150 people from across the county came to help share the spirit of Christmas.

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