- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Bonnie Gallo isn't sure how she and her husband, Tad, started helping the community during the holiday season five years ago.
"We just do it, and we don't even think about it," says Mrs. Gallo, a mother of three teen-agers in Sterling, Va. "We're getting pleasure out of it, obviously, seeing how people receive it and how grateful they are. We're helping them make Christmas a little better and brighter and happier. Why do we do it? I'm not really sure. We just like helping people less fortunate than us."
It's an almost magical pull around the holidays, the desire to reach out and help one's fellow man. Some families make it a yearly tradition, as much as trimming the tree or lighting the menorah, and start making plans weeks ahead of time.
Then there are people like Deborah Papineau of Chevy Chase, who woke up Thanksgiving Day not knowing what she was going to do. She found herself driving downtown to her childhood neighborhood and ended up at the Gospel Rescue Ministry on Fifth Street NW, serving turkey-and-ham dinners to homeless families throughout the day.
"I didn't even call ahead," she says with a wry smile. "I just walked in the front door and said, 'Do you all need help today?' "
Whatever the reason, whatever the motivation, it seems that for many families and individuals during December, 'tis the season to be helpful. The benefits are numerous.

Help during the holidays

Few rescue missions, shelters for the homeless or volunteer organizations interviewed keep statistics on how much of a boost they get during the holidays from community-minded families and individuals. They all acknowledge, though, that just like the shopping malls and department stores, they find the holiday season is their best and most productive time of year.
"Thanksgiving and Christmas bring out a lot of those who maybe want to serve," says John Jackson, executive director of Gospel Rescue Ministry, a Fifth Street fixture since the 1930s. "Some folks you hear from every three or four months throughout the year, some want to help out more frequently than that. But most of the help we get comes during the holidays."
Like other leaders of charity organizations, Mr. Jackson wishes the help were spread out a bit more through the entire year, but he is not about to turn away any kind of help in December. The Gospel Rescue Ministry building isn't located in one of the more upscale parts of town big white block letters tell visitors not to urinate behind the building and the needs are too great.
"On Thanksgiving, we actually had more volunteers than eaters for the first part of the day, but as the day went on, we had more and more eaters come in, so it evened out a bit," he says. "The help tends to be greater during the holidays, but sometimes the needs are greater, too."
His thoughts are echoed by Karen Velez, who oversees the Loudoun County Department of Social Services' Community Holiday Coalition, which collects clothing and other household items for a one-day "shopping spree" on Dec. 10 for underprivileged families in Loudoun County. Ms. Velez estimates that about 700 Loudoun families (about 3,000 people) took advantage of the coalition's shopping day at the Army National Guard Armory in Leesburg this year.
"We have programs that go year-round, like emergency food and interfaith relief organizations, and they need food year-round," she says. "There are many things for families to get involved with throughout the year, but the holidays really bring out the good will in people, which is nice to see, too, of course. We'll take all the help we can get, and we get a lot of it."

'You never want to stop'

The Gallos are the kind of family Ms. Velez says she can count on every year, a family she says makes it "their gift" to help out wherever needed during the holidays.
"They stuff envelopes, help with shopping, whatever it takes," she says. "I've been doing this for five years, and they've been there every year kids, too."
Stacy Gallo, 17, the middle of the three Gallo children (including Kyle, 18, and Bryan, 15), says she realizes every year how fortunate she is when her family participates in volunteer activities during Christmas.
"It shows me I have a lot more stuff than I thought I had," says the junior at Parkview High School in Sterling. "You see the living conditions some people have, and how few things they have, and it's really shocking. Our school is really involved with a bunch of charities, and it's nice to be involved with that."
That is why the Gallos do it, Mrs. Gallo says.
"We look forward to it," she says. "Even with the rush and the decorations and all that, it is a big deal for us. The kids are one of the big reasons we started doing it. Every year they say, 'When are we going to do it?' They mention it first. They see the same people over and over when we do this, and I think it's because once people get involved, you never want to stop."

'We're all interconnected'

The Petillo family of Falls Church was one of the first to arrive at the Gospel Rescue Ministry on Thanksgiving Day. Donning aprons and latex gloves, they puttered about the cafeteria in the basement an hour or so before the first diners were to arrive.
Parents Robert and Alice Petillo helped set out some of the food and prepare the chafing dishes while daughters Lucy, 5, and Ana, 9, set the tables with plastic tableware and paper napkins.
"We're on the mailing list and when we heard that they needed help for the holidays, we thought, 'Well, the girls are old enough for us to take them,' " Mrs. Petillo says. "My parents are in Florida for Thanksgiving this year, so our usual get-together in Baltimore didn't happen. We thought it would be a good year to come. I was a little nervous at first, because I didn't know how the girls would react, but they seem to enjoy setting tables and helping. It's good for them to see how we're all interconnected."
In fact, Ana was already making plans to return next year.
"It's been fun," she says. "The people are all friendly here, and we had a good time helping out. It makes you feel good."
Some family volunteer traditions have gone on for much longer. Chuck and Mary Lou Krouse of Vienna have been involved with the Heifer Project International for about 10 years and other charitable organizations for as long or longer. The Heifer Project enables families in the United States to buy livestock and other animals to send to hungry families and villages around the world.
Their three sons, all in their 40s, have carried on the holiday help tradition in their own ways, even though they live in different parts of the country now.
"I feel really blessed to be able to do things like this," says Mr. Krouse, who is retired from a colorful career in newspapers, the House of Representatives and the CIA. "I think [the Heifer Project] is the most productive thing I've done in my entire life, in a way, if you think about the impact it's having on families around the world."

Party with a purpose

Philip Toups, a graphic designer with the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington, wanted to do something last Christmas beyond throwing a party for his friends where they would just "eat, drink and then just go home."
Mr. Toups decided to ask them all to bring a gift for the Christ House, a homeless shelter in Alexandria. The response was so great he decided to do it again this year, only this time with the gifts going to the Sullivan House, a shelter for battered women and their children in Arlington. He said he expected about 100 people to attend this year's party, which was held two days ago, and hoped to collect more than 300 gifts for the 25 children currently living at Sullivan House.
"I was basically looking for a way to give my friends an opportunity to give back to the community and contribute," says Mr. Toups, who is 33 and single. "I found that every time I asked for someone to support a cause for me, everyone was so willing and so generous."
Mr. Toups does most of the organizing for the project, getting names, ages and clothing sizes of the children at Sullivan House from the staff there and then passing on a "shopping list" to his party guests. His goal is 11 items for each child mostly clothes and one toy and guests have to wrap each item separately, so the children get more presents to open on Christmas Day. All presents are labeled "from Santa Claus."
"I do all the rest," he says. "I cook a buffet dinner for about 100 people, and we just invite them to come over and hang out for as long as they want. They put all the presents in a pile and then they go over to Sullivan House."
He says he started getting questions about this year's Christmas party back in September, and family and friends from as far away as Texas and Chicago said they wanted to participate.
"It's funny to think what it's turned into so quickly," Mr. Toups says. "Everybody I talked to, when I gave them their item, they always said, 'I can get more than just a shirt or a blouse.' I wanted to make sure the kids all had clothes and underwear and coats first and that they all got at least one toy, but it looks like everyone I've talked to is really coming through. They've all really gotten into it and it's great to see. I mean, that's what Christmas is all about, isn't it?"

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