Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fences wreathed in charitable effort

When JoAnn Burg, community outreach deacon of the Long Valley Presbyterian Church, took the helm of the annual Sponsor a Wreath fundraiser in Washington Township, she said she did it as a personal way to help out people in the area.

Sponsor the Wreaths "is a very real way to assist people in the local community," she said.

Donors pay $20 to sponsor for wreaths, which are hung on one of the white fences that line roads in Washington Township. The money supports a local food pantry. Volunteers already have started hanging this year's wreaths.

The Interfaith Community Outreach for Washington Township Area, or ICOWTA, is a coalition of 10 churches that administer the Residents Emergency Fund and the Food Pantry. A member of the group, Burg said believes that the groceries that are bought through the fundraiser are a "hand-up" rather than a handout.

"I think a handout sounds like people are just waiting there (to collect something0," Burg said. "The people we're helping either have jobs or just lost a job."

"When someone donates $20, there is no administrative cost behind it, and nothing gets deducted," she said. "It all goes back to the food pantry."

Sponsor a Wreath was created six years ago by neighbors Sam and Laurie Aiken and Harvey Ort Jr. as a way to help residents in need. All of the money raised is used to buy groceries and help those in need. By the time all the money is in, 4,500 bags of groceries will be distributed out to more than 70 families this holiday season.

Volunteers and church members say they feel the program is a great annual event because it allows many from the community get involved in it every year. For example, the Washington Township Library conducted a Food for Fines campaign in which people could substitute paying late book fines by donating food. Curves of Chester, Weight Watchers of Long Valley and Chester and Washington Township Scouts get involved, acting as collection conduits for the food drive.

"It's amazing," Burg said about all the support the fundraiser gets in the community. "Most of them come to us."

One of the most visible highlights of the event is when the wreaths are hung on the fences, providing a seasonal decoration with a definite cause behind it.

Donations for wreaths can be mailed to ICOWTA c/o Long Valley Presbyterian Church, 39 Bartley Road, Long Valley, NJ 07853.

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