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Generosity of Lehigh family brightens holidays

As part of the annual "Shop with a Cop" program, Lehigh University police officers recently accompanied children from 10 area families on a shopping excursion at a local Wal-Mart store.

Several community-based programs supported by Lehigh students, faculty and staff are brightening the holidays for local families. A series of events sponsored by the Community Service Office, the university’s fraternities and sororities and the athletics department were held in early December to benefit members of the South Side community and beyond.

“We were overwhelmed with the generosity of the Lehigh family,” says Carolina Hernandez, director of the Community Service Office who reported extraordinary results from several programs organized by her office.

Roseann Corsi, public relations coordinator for athletics, reported the most successful year ever for the well-established C.O.A.C.H. (Community of Athletes who Care about Helping) program.

“We even topped last year’s total of $26,000 raised to buy presents for local children,” Corsi says. “It’s an amazing accomplishment on the part of 650 athletes representing every one of our 24 varsity teams.”

Hernandez and several students introduced a new program this year to collect winter coats for middle-school children from local schools.

“We were inundated with bags and bags of coats from students, faculty members, Lehigh employees and friends of Lehigh employees,” she says. “We didn’t know what to expect since this was our first year, but it was incredibly successful.”

The coat drive started when Hernandez and students learned that many at the nearby Broughal School couldn’t attend Lehigh events on colder days since they had no outerwear.

“One of our students came back with the idea to start a coat drive, so we got right to work,” says Hernandez. “It’s turned out great.”

Exceeding expectations

Her office also organized a “Kid’s Café” at the Boys Club of Easton with volunteers from Lehigh’s specialized “Live. Learn. Serve.” program, and held their annual Holiday Hope Chest program in collaboration with the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley.

“What we ask is that people wrap up a shoe box so that we could still open it, and provide a gift appropriate for a child,” she says. “Our initial goal was 100, and we have probably 20 more than that already, with a little more time to go.”

The winter coats and children’s gifts were distributed in early-December, says Hernandez, who lauded the efforts of dozens of student volunteers who helped organize and manage the charity drives.

More important than the success of the programs was the sense of fulfillment gained by those who participated, Corsi says.

“You can see how the students have been transformed by these experiences,” she says. “In the one hour they have to spend with these families, they’re able to forge friendships and gain real perspective. Sometimes I feel we gain more than the families do.”

Other programs include the following:

“Shop with a Cop”: The Lehigh University Police Department sponsored its annual “Shop with a Lehigh Cop” program in early December, when 13 officers accompanied 26 children from 10 local families on a shopping excursion at a local Wal-Mart store.

Following a "Breakfast with Santa" in Rathbone Hall, the children were taken to Wal-Mart and given an allotment of close to $200 each that could be used to purchase gifts for themselves and family members. Employee volunteers from Wal-Mart wrapped the presents.

As in previous years, a local couple that shuns publicity was on hand to help children pick out special gifts, such as favorite bike. The day concludes with a trip to Ahart’s Market, where the local families receive a gift basket of holiday food items.

“It’s a great day, and it’s a terrific event,” says Lehigh University Police Chief Ed Shupp, who originated the idea at Lehigh five years ago. “It’s that time of year when you just have a great feeling being able to give back to the community that we’re empowered to protect and serve. The kids just love it – you can see the joy on their faces.”

The program was developed to foster positive relationships with the citizens of South Side, he says.

“We want the youth to learn that police officers are allies, not adversaries,” says Shupp, who also credits the support of other local merchants that include Sodexho Dining Services, Majestic Sportswear, G & L Screen Printing and the Windish Hall.

Greeks adopt needy families: As in previous years at Lehigh, the fraternity and sorority community adopted local families and presented them with mountains of gifts during the Adopt-A-Family holiday giving program on December 5 in Lamberton Hall’s Great Room.

Parents and children from Northampton County were presented with gifts of toys, clothing and gift certificates that could be used to buy ingredients at local grocery stores for holiday meals.

Tiffany Showalter, Greek life coordinator in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, said, “It is truly wonderful to see our students make holiday wishes come true. The smiles on the faces of family members, especially the children, when they see all the presents are absolutely what make this event so worthwhile.”

Adds Dave Cohen, president of the Interfraternity Council: “The Adopt-A-Family program is one of the proudest and most enduring traditions the fraternity and sorority community has to offer. We are proud and pleased to be able to take time to give something back during the holidays.”

The Giving Tree: Lehigh’s Newman Center is sponsoring a Giving Tree, which earned its name from the “ornaments” that adorn this special tree. The ornaments are labeled for underprivileged students in a local Catholic elementary school and needy mothers with young children. Members of the Lehigh community are encouraged to select an ornament from the tree, which is located at the rear of Packer Memorial Church, and donate the gift listed on the label.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, December 14, 2007

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