Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

Operation Holiday helps local families


Operation Holiday has been providing food and gifts for families of the tri-county region for 32 years, beginning in 1991 at The Mercury in Pottstown to ensure that all children, no matter how dire their family circumstan­ces, have something for the holidays.

The program has served thousands of families each year as a community outreach of local newspapers. Funds are raised by simply telling the stories of need and asking readers to respond. Employees of local newspapers — expanded from The Mercury to include The Times Herald, The Reporter, Daily Local News and Reading Eagle — manage the fundraisin­g through a non-profit foundation and team up with local agencies to identify families in need and distribute food and gift cards.

Each year has shown the need that exists in local communitie­s and the generosity that flows in response.

In 2020, the effects of the pandemic caused an unpreceden­ted demand on food pantries of the region, many of whom are partners each year with Operation Holiday. Their stories of working to meet the demand became a separate “Season of Caring” series, and combined with Operation Holiday profiles, inspired overwhelmi­ng generosity from readers.

In 2021, devastatio­n of another kind affected the region. Many people lost their homes and saw their lives upended by flooding and tornadoes from the remnants of Hurricane Ida at the start of September. Operation Holiday began the year with the story of Mary and Joe (not their real names) and their three children who had to be rescued by boat from their flooded Norristown apartment on September 1 as the Schuylkill River rose to record levels from Ida rainfall.

This year, a devastatin­g explosion rocked a Pottstown neighborho­od in May, killing children and damaging or destroying eight homes. The cause of the blast is still under investigat­ion and the lingering wounds have left deep scars in the community. The holiday season will be particular­ly difficult for those families.

As we begin this year’s Operation Holiday campaign, families are dealing with inflation driving up costs of food, transporta­tion and rent, making it difficult to make ends meet. When families are struggling to put food on the table, the extras of gifts and special food for the holiday become nearly impossible for many working parents.

That’s where Operation Holiday comes in: When a family is struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food to eat, there are no resources left to buy gifts at the holidays. The mission of Operation Holiday is to give children in those difficult circumstan­ces some semblance of a normal Christmas with food and gifts.

This year, Operation Holiday has partnered with 22 agencies in the tri-county area. Agencies have referred 144 families with 375 children for gifts and food and an additional 34 families for food. The program is also assisting the eight families in Pottstown who lost their homes in the May explosion.

There is no overhead with Operation Holiday and all funds stay local. Funds are collected and audited in a non-profit foundation account managed by staff of MediaNews Group who volunteer their time.

Last year’s amount of giving was unpreceden­ted: More than $122,000 in donations was received, all of it from individual readers of our local newspapers in amounts ranging from $2 to $5,000. Funds provided food and gifts for 379 children and allowed us to also give cash donations to 13 food pantries in Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties that serve struggling families of our region.

The program provides both a means for people to give locally, knowing their donations go to help the families in their own communitie­s, and a means to uplift those who are falling behind. Your gifts reinforce the value of community in the region and give children hope.

Online donations are being accepted in a secure portal in partnershi­p with TriCounty Community Network. Visit https://tcnetwork.org/ and click on the link for Operation Holiday. Contributi­ons can be mailed with checks payable to Operation Holiday to PO Box 1181, Pottstown PA 19464; The Reporter, 307 Derstine Ave. , Lansdale PA 19446; Operation Holiday, 1440 Lacrosse Ave., Reading, PA 19607.

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