The Children's Institute Blog

Hope for the Holidays

Posted: Nov 20, 2019 by The Children's Institute

STAR 100.7 radio station filled with gifts, Kelly from STAR 100.7 stands with Bethany Leas of Project STAR
It's amazing how love from a stranger can restore holiday hope to a vulnerable family. This is the mission of the Hope for the Holidays gift drive of Project STAR at The Children's Institute of Pittsburgh.

"Our families are dealing with so many challenges," explains Bethany Leas, Assistant Director of Project STAR. "We know firsthand that they wouldn't have a holiday without our help because their focus is on securing the most basic necessities - so we provide Christmas for them."

The holiday gift drive supports families in Project STAR's four-county region who are receiving intensive family support services, as well as those in the foster care and adoption programs. Older youth living in group facilities are also served.

Kelly of STAR 100.7 interviews Bethany Leas of Project STAR at The Children's InstituteBeginning in October, caseworkers meet with parents and guardians to prepare wish lists. Team members then develop anonymous gift lists that are provided to donors - individuals, local businesses, schools, churches, and even a Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop or two - who return the gifts either to Project STAR or the STAR 100.7 radio station, who has been partnering with Project STAR since 2010 to brighten the lives of those who need a little holiday hope. For the past two years, the radio station has increased the number of families their listeners can "adopt," helping to provide gifts for 100 or more families per year through the radio station alone.

"Our on-air personalities Bubba (Mark Snider), Melanie Taylor, Elista Burneisen, Kelly Dzanaj, and Maria D'Antonio love this program, and they know how generous Pittsburghers are," says Promotions Director Celeste Donatucci. "They give 110% to engage our amazing listeners every season."

The phones are always ringing off the hook during the Bubba Show, which airs weekday mornings on Pittsburgh STAR 100.7 radio. Staring in October, many of those calls are from avid listeners who want to help families of Project STAR.

"STAR 100.7's focus is 'live and local', so helping others in our community through the gift drive is a great fit," says Susan Sellari, Senior Account Executive. "We love how this project brings people together."

"Every year, we're touched by stories from our listeners who are moved to action in support of Project STAR and the families they serve," Susan continues. "We're proud to support this incredible spirit of giving here in Pittsburgh."

After collection - with the help of a local trucking company who donates their time and trucks, the gifts then make their way into the hands of the caseworkers, who deliver them when the children aren't home. This process actually motivates and empowers families by giving parents and caregivers the opportunity to prepare and present the gifts to their children in their own way. The gift drive also helps to promote awareness and education about the vital work of Project STAR in the community.

In the gift drive's early days, packaged were gathered and inventoried first in the conference room, then in the lunch room, team member offices and hallways of Project STAR. The project has since grown to include more than 450 children from about 220 families, and now involves 60 or more team members, hundreds of donors, and the local radio station. Gifts are stored and processed in a warehouse owned by The Children's Institute, which is used year-round for storage.

The gift drive is certainly a team effort and one of the favorite times of year for Project STAR team members who walk in to see the warehouse overflowing with toys, bikes, clothing, and more. The many donors who make these gifts a reality are truly amazing, and families are positively overwhelmed to be given the opportunity to celebrate the holidays, especially during difficult times in their lives.

"Each of us is always just one step away from being a help to another person," Bethany says. "Whether your gift is your time, your talents, or your finances, giving is a great way to connect with others."

"It's very heart-warming to see how generous people are during the holiday season," says Amanda Nelson, Project STAR team lead on the Hope for the Holidays gift drive. Gifts are welcome anytime though! Project STAR also has an ongoing need for gifts-in-kind throughout the year. For more information about the Hope for the Holidays gift drive, or a wish list of items needed year-round, please contact Abby Pittinaro at 412-420-2204 or [email protected]. To select a family and get started with the gift drive now, check out the information on the STAR 100.7 website.

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