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’Tis the season to give

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

The dire economic climate in the Lehigh Valley and beyond has generated greater demand for services than many social agencies have seen in years. Fortunately for many, the Lehigh community responded with unprecedented generosity to bring food, warm clothing and toys to those in need this holiday season.

Special events included the annual “Shop with a Cop” program organized by the Lehigh University Police Department, the annual canned food drive, the ongoing volunteer activities of the Community Service Office, the perennially successful C.O.A.C.H. program and a new “holiday warmth” coat drive organized by admissions office employee Laura Severin.

Other programs continuing through December include the university participation in Luminaria Night, which benefits New Bethany Ministries; the Holiday Hope Chest program, which fills empty boxes with age-appropriate toys and items for needy children; and the Giving Tree, an event organized by Lehigh Catholic community to provide toys for children in local Catholic elementary schools or young mothers in need.

In each case, the Lehigh community responded with extraordinary enthusiasm, according to program organizers.

Carolina Hernandez, director of Lehigh’s Community Service Office, said she was astonished with the response to an email she distributed asking for help in stocking the bare shelves of a local food bank.

“It was an amazing and hugely successful food drive coordinated by Junior Interfraternity Council and Junior PanHel and the Community Service Office,” she says. “It’s incredible to me that one quick email to my colleagues resulted in the South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center's food bank—and basement—being fully stocked. The word spread quickly and I am incredibly humbled by the result.”

”Shop with a Cop” program

Ed Shupp, chief of the Lehigh University Police Department, said that he and his officers were also amazed by the response they received from outside agencies for their “Shop with a Cop” program. The annual event begins with a Breakfast with Santa, followed by a shopping trip to the local Wal-Mart with police officers, who escort children on a shopping spree. The presents are then wrapped by Wal-Mart volunteers. Donations from local businesses also allow the officers to distribute food baskets to local families.

“The program this year was one of the largest we’ve ever hosted, with 29 children participating,” he says. “And part of the reason we could host so many is that our officers showed a great amount of interest in volunteering their time towards this great cause.”

Shupp says the families helped by this program were “most grateful for helping them out during the holidays.

“The kids were overcome with joy as they shopped with the police officers,” Shupp says. “Some were even interested in shopping not only for themselves, but wanted to pick up something for their parents, which was very touching.”

Here’s Channel 69’s recent coverage of Lehigh’s “Shop with a Cop” program.

Karrie Dieser, marketing specialist for Lehigh Dining Services, tapped a similar vein of generosity when she organized her annual canned food drive, which usually benefits the Second Harvest food bank, but was directed to the South Bethlehem Neighborhood Center this year.

"It was astonishing to see how the campus community came together to help those in need in their own neighborhood,” Dieser says. “By bringing this event to a more personal level, and emphasizing the importance of working together to feed those less fortunate right here in our own South Bethlehem, our campus was able to triple our donation amount from last year in just one day. "

By the end of the early November food drive, Dieser’s efforts resulted in the collection of 1,350 lbs of food. She was aided by 25 student volunteers who collected the food from points around campus, and eight fraternity members who came at the end of the day to transport all the food to the South Bethlehem food bank.

Exceeding expectations

Amira Sa'Abana, a first-year student from Malaysia (right), has a winter coat, thanks to generosity of Laura Severin (left).

Laura Severin, director of international recruitment, was overwhelmed with the response to her “Winter Clothes Closet” initiative, which was inspired by a trip she took to Argentina this past fall.

“I was traveling in South America and a colleague and I purchased two winter coats to get us through two days of freezing cold weather in Argentina,” she says. “When leaving Argentina, our suitcases couldn't handle the extra coats so we thought we’d send the coats back to Lehigh to give to two international students who may have arrived on campus from warmer climates and weren't prepared for the cold weather. “

Severin sent out an email to the Association of International Students and received an immediate response from several students, motivating her to develop a broader program and ask Lehigh colleagues to donate hats, coats, sweaters, gloves and scarves for international students.

Within days, her office became a clearinghouse for donations, which were quickly snapped up by international students.

“The student reaction was the most impressive aspect of this project,” she says. “Each student made comments about not wanting to take too many items in order to ensure enough clothing was left for their classmates. They were extremely mindful of their fellow students' needs.”

Lehigh student-athletes who participated in this year’s 10th annual C.O.A.C.H. program (Community Outreach by Athletes who Care about Helping), also outperformed their own record of success. They raised more than $32,000—the most ever for the Adopt-A-Family event, which raises money throughout the semester in order to purchase presents for local families in need. This year, the student-athletes adopted more than 50 families.

“The event is the most rewarding of the year to our student-athletes,” says Roseann Corsi, public relations coordinator for Lehigh’s department of athletics. “This program is very dear to our hearts and it provides such an experience for our athletes and the families. I feel the experience for everyone is one that you will never forget. “

Corsi said that her department was joined with the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council in adopting families, along with employees from Lehigh’s finance and administration stem.

“It started with athletics and it just continues to grow and grow each year throughout the campus,” she says. “It's just totally amazing.”

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Wednesday, December 03, 2008

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