Mogue Wisniewski, 5, sits on Santa’s lap at Saturday’s Angels of Christmas luncheon which provides Christmas gifts to disadvantaged families. (ABI REIMOLD / FOR THE TIMES)
About two decades ago, Tom Kutchner and three friends had a discussion about giving back to the less fortunate during the Christmas season.
“We were at a Flyers game, and they were getting killed,” he recalled. “We had season passes and realized how good we had it. We started each giving twenty dollars a week for fifty weeks.”
That first year, they donated $4,000 and gave it to the St. Leo Knights of Columbus, which distributes food baskets during the holidays.
On one visit, the men met a Tacony woman raising her three grandchildren. She started giving back some of the food items.
“I only have a toaster oven,” she told them.
That visit convinced them to send the family to dinner, but more important, to expand their efforts. Today, Kutchner is founder and president of Angels of Christmas, a non-profit organization that hosts a party each December for needy families.
This year’s celebration, the 18th, took place on Saturday afternoon at St. Dominic’s spacious Marian Hall.
Some 300 people, including 175 children, enjoyed the festivities. In all, 69 families had a special day for themselves as Christmas nears.
Churches and relief organization identify the families. The day includes a meal, and plenty of fun, including clowns, face painters, balloon artists, magicians and, of course, Santa Claus.
Santa posed for pictures with families and was especially generous to the children. He gave them one unwrapped gift to enjoy that day and three wrapped presents to open on Christmas. The youngsters also picked out books, stuffed animals and DVDs.
The children fill out a form indicating which kinds of gifts they’d like.
“We buy special presents for every kid,” Kutchner said. “It’s very personalized.”
The children generally don’t ask for expensive items.
“They ask for pajamas with warm feet, things we take for granted,” said Mike Serverson, the board secretary who has been involved with the group for years.
Santa is assisted by Angels of Christmas volunteers, who go to the Toys R Us store near Franklin Mills mall each Dec. 8 to shop for gifts. They choose that day because the St. Hubert High School students who help them are off for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The Angels are grateful that the Associated Polish Home allows them to store and wrap the gifts at their Academy Road location.
People of all ages help out at the party, from individuals to groups like the seventh- and eighth-grade girls basketball team at Our Lady of Calvary.
“Everybody’s a volunteer,” Serverson said.
“It’s a collection of everyday people looking to make a difference,” Kutchner said.
The budget for the party is about $12,000. An annual comedy show at Fran Lee Caterers helps pay the tab. Other money comes from calendar sales and private donors, including Kutchner’s three friends who helped start what has become a charity that some families look forward to every year. Longtime supporter 3rd Fed Bank sells taffies and donates gifts from a “giving tree.”
The Angels also give donations to a battered women’s shelter, a North Philadelphia church and the Interfaith Hospitality Network, which assists homeless families.
No donation is too small.
“Our slogan is, ‘Give a little to do a lot,’ ” Kutchner said.
Bryant Dalton, who lives in Delaware, was seriously injured in a workplace incident and has not been able to return to work. He and his wife Dawn and two children — 8-year-old Bryce and 5-year-old Bryanna — had a good time at their third Angels of Christmas party. They were referred by Dalton’s former boss.
“The kids are so excited. They have been talking about December 15th for three weeks,” Dalton said. “On the ride up here, my daughter said she couldn’t wait until she got a poodle balloon. My son likes giraffes. They are really happy they got to see Santa.”
Some of the Angels acknowledge spoiling their own children, but they volunteer their time to help kids who might not find too many presents under their Christmas tree.
“It’s helping someone who needs help at this point in time,” Serverson said. “The gratification I get out of it is seeing the kids’ faces light up. That’s what it’s all about.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org