More than 700 children in the Westerville City School District will wake up to presents under the tree on Christmas morning because of the work of the all-volunteer Westerville Caring & Sharing.
About 15 volunteers work year-round to pull off the group's Christmas distribution.
They're supported by Westerville businesses, individual Westerville schools and volunteers who step up during the holiday season to provide presents and food for the winter break to children and seniors in need.
"It's one of the most rewarding things you can do," said Helen Keyse, a longtime Caring and Sharing volunteer.
This year, Caring and Sharing will mark its 25th holiday distribution.
The group started simply, with a volunteer from the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce and one from Westerville's YWCA branch providing Christmas gifts for 36 children.
"It just gradually took off. Each year was a little more, and it's still that way," Caring and Sharing Vice President Mary Pugh said.
In the organization's early years, volunteers worked individually with schools to identify families in need of holiday support. They got wish lists from families, shopped for, wrapped and delivered presents.
Last year, the group provided presents for 730 Westerville children.
They've progressed from the days where the shopping and the wrapping was dependent on a small group of volunteers.
Now, dozens of Westerville businesses, individuals, churches, schools and organizations "adopt" families or individuals through Caring and Sharing.
The Caring and Sharing volunteers help find students in need through the school district and collect their wish lists. The wish lists are provided to the "adopting" groups, who shop for and wrap the presents, which are then distributed by Caring and Sharing.
Caring and Sharing supplements the presents with donated coats and gift cards to allow families to shop for clothes, food or other needed items.
One of the most crucial things Caring and Sharing provides is a food basket.
"The kids are off (from school) for two weeks, not getting their free and reduced-price lunches, and breakfasts in some cases," said Barbara McCoy, Caring and Sharing president.
In fact, as the group looks toward its holiday distribution this year, volunteers are putting out the call for food more than anything, McCoy said, because donations of food dropped last year.
The hardest part of serving Westerville families in need is seeing children in need of food, Pugh said.
"We actually had a mom try to give back toys last year, trying to get more food," Pugh said. "You want (your kids) to have a nice Christmas and toys, but you really can't live with your child being hungry."
Those who would like to donate to Caring and Sharing can drop off food or gift cards at the former Big Bear store, in the shopping plaza at County Line and Sunbury roads, from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 9 and Dec. 11, 1 to 7 p.m. Dec. 12, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 13 and 14.
The group looks for nonperishable food items that can be prepared and eaten on their own, such as cans of "chunky-style" soups and stews, peanut butter and tuna.
The group serves families with children of all ages and will take donations of diapers, wipes and formula for families with small children.
Volunteers can arrange to pick up donations, and donations will be collected along the route of the Westerville Children's Christmas Parade Dec. 8.
Tuesday, Dec. 3, and Dec. 10, City Barbecue will donate 25 percent of its sales to Caring and Sharing, for those who present a coupon. The coupons can be obtained through the group's Facebook page or via email to email@example.com.
Also needed are gift cards of $10 to $15 to grocery stores, or for places likely to be visited by teens, such as movie theaters, clothing stores or electronics stores.
The group often struggles with gifts for teens, Pugh said, and volunteers will pair the gift cards with other gifts for the kids.
Anyone interested in donating to Caring and Sharing or in volunteering to help with holiday distributions can contact the group at 614-470-4320 or can get in tough via the organization's website at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pugh said Caring and Sharing couldn't serve the community without its supporters, who she said are too many to name.
"I don't think you could list them all without missing some," Pugh said.