More than 700 students in the Westerville City School District will wake up to presents under their trees on Christmas morning thanks to the efforts of Westerville Caring & Sharing.
Over the past weekend, volunteers with the group filled a vacant storefront in a Westerville plaza, organizing donations of toys, food and coats to be given to Westerville families in need.
"It's just like Santa's workshop, or what I think Santa's work shop would be like: People just bustling around and in a good mood," said Westerville Caring & Sharing President Barbara McCoy.
Caring & Sharing represents a small group of volunteers that work year-round to provide Westerville students with back-to-school necessities and Christmas gifts.
"It's an all-out effort for a small amount of volunteers to do. All of our volunteers are dedicated to making a difference in these children's lives," McCoy said. "I'm just so proud of these volunteers."
In November, the volunteers take applications from Westerville families in need of presents for the holidays, McCoy said.
Families' needs are verified by the Westerville City School District; the program is open to families whose children receive free or reduced-price lunches, McCoy said.
From there, the families are "adopted" by other Westerville families, individuals or businesses who purchase gifts for them.
Families who receive presents also receive a basket of food, and a local church each year collects more than 300 coats that can be distributed to the families if they need them, McCoy said.
"The Westerville community is, obviously, very awesome to us," McCoy said.
A large part of the effort to back Westerville Caring & Sharing comes from Westerville's three high schools.
Each year, the high schools raise tens of thousands of dollars to support Caring & Sharing and adopt families through the program.
"The high schoolers are the ones -- we could not function without these kids raising funds by whatever means they have and adopting families," McCoy said.
Despite its success in supporting hundreds of local families already, McCoy said, the group is looking at what else it can do to support local families in need.
Caring & Sharing is trying to let more people know about their efforts. They've created a Facebook page and attended community events, such as OhioHealth 4th Friday celebrations Uptown, to pass out information on the group.
"There's so much more we could be doing, in particular with the food, if we could get our word out better," McCoy said.