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AT&T presents check for $3,000 to ACO; volunteers play Santa during annual distribution party
Allen Community Outreach volunteers Rodney Fabre, Don Strain, Pam Gaiter and Burton Gilliam prepare to pack another vehicle with donated items Monday morning at the First United Methodist Church in Allen. A total of 550 teens, seniors and children were 'adopted' by members of the community during this year's holiday program. / Monique Oaks / Staff photo
Christmas came early this year for some Allen-area Santa Clauses.
On Monday morning, a crew of about 25 volunteers - aided by walkie talkies, coded numbers and assigned pickup times - hauled labeled bags and gifts into vehicles during Allen Community Outreach's annual Holiday Adoption Program distribution party.
Also during the event, AT&T donated $3,000 to ACO to help with gift purchases.
Among the volunteers spreading holiday cheer were such notables as state Rep.-elect Jeff Leach and actor Burton Gilliam, said Stacy Cooper, ACO director of development. Other participants included Sharon Mayer, Allen-Fairview Chamber of Commerce president/CEO; David Arbuckle, AT&T vice president of external affairs; and Charlene Lake, AT&T senior vice president of public affairs and chief sustainability officer.
This is the second year AT&T has participated in the program.
"ACO, [as of] a couple of years ago, they don't get any more United Way money; so that's when we jumped in and tried to make up some of the difference," Arbuckle said. "What we're trying to do is bring more awareness of what a great mission ACO does with this project, so that their donations stay [in the area]."
In ACO's annual adoption program, family members submit wish lists of items on behalf of teens, seniors and children through an ACO caseworker, and adopters purchase the clothes, other necessities and toys on the lists and deliver them on an assigned day. Volunteers then sort, bundle and label the donations to ready them for distribution; this year, about 160 volunteers worked Friday through Monday sorting and packing, said Marjorie Vaneskahian, ACO director of volunteer services.
"We had a great group of spirited volunteers who really enjoyed their work, knowing that it would benefit the families that needed it the most this time of year," she said.
"It's a community taking care of itself," Arbuckle said. "[You'll] never beat that deal."
Arbuckle said the program was especially swamped in 2005, when there was an influx of people affected by Hurricane Katrina.
"It's gotten a little more manageable now, but obviously there's still a lot of need," he said.
The ACO facility at 801 E. Main St. found itself in need as well when a recent cascade of unexpected breakdowns - including a water leak under the parking lot and two failed air conditioning units - ran up some significant bills.
The breakdowns closed the parking lot for days and disrupted classes, client meetings and food pantry temperatures, according to an ACO press release. The repairs amounted to more than $18,000.
"We're trying to recoup those costs and then still maintain our high level of service to our clients as well," Cooper said.
For information about the adoption project, other programs and donation opportunities, visit acocares.org.
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