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North Hills Monthly

Your Gifts Can Make the Holidays Brighter for Those Less Fortunate

Oct 30, 2015 03:09PM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Collecting for the Fill the Truck fundraiser

As you begin your holiday gift lists for friends, family, neighbors and coworkers, consider adding a present or two for someone who might not otherwise receive anything under the tree this year. For families struggling to make ends meet, the holidays can strain an already difficult financial situation. Thankfully, a number of local individuals and organizations are working hard to ensure that people in need are not facing such challenges without assistance.

Charlee Dawson, 14, an eighth-grader at Seneca Valley Middle School, was nine when she asked her parents, “What happens to kids if their parents can’t afford to do for them what you do for us at Christmas?” Dawson’s parents took that opportunity to teach Charlee and her twin brother, Caleb, about the joys of giving. They purchased gifts for a family in need, delivered them to the doorstep on Christmas Eve, rang the doorbell, and ran.

Out of that experience grew Rosie Hope. The charity has flourished over the last five years under Dawson’s leadership. With her mother Angie’s assistance, she has organized fundraisers such as a luncheon, fashion show, raffle and jewelry sale. She often partners with local businesses to host and sponsor events; her most recent fundraiser was an open house/hat and scarf sale in her parents’ home. In 2014, Dawson raised $2,200 and delivered Christmas gifts to 10 families.

Angie Dawson explained that in addition to gifts, Charlee always includes winter coats and gloves for the children and a gift certificate to a local grocery store for the family. The project has grown to include numerous friends and family. “Last year, all of my friends and my brother’s whole baseball team wrapped all the presents,” explained Charlee. Her big brother, Eli, helps out with Christmas Eve deliveries when he is home from college.

Charlee plans to continue her good work this year. “On Christmas morning when I wake up and have all these presents, I smile knowing I have helped someone else have that,” she said. More information is available at

Patty Bittle started Fill That Truck five years ago as a project to collects toys for children of families assisted by the Women’s Choice Network. For 30 years, the group has helped women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, and clients are primarily young, single mothers. Bittle is committed to supporting the organization and says that the response from mothers—who are often surprised and touched that strangers would provide gifts for people they don’t know—is one of profound gratitude.

Bittle’s dedication has inspired others. She partnered with Walnut Grill Restaurant Group this year to set up gift collection areas in each of its restaurants, and Fill That Truck will be part of the grand opening for the new Walnut Grill in Robinson this month. Two Men in a Truck has donated a truck for Bittle’s use with the fundraiser, and it looks like she’ll need it; last year, Fill That Truck helped over 700 families, and Bittle expects to exceed those numbers in 2015. Collection begins on Nov. 1 and ends with an official filling of the truck on Dec. 12 at the Wexford Walnut Grill. For more information, email

In addition to these individual efforts, a number of community groups hold toy and gift drives to assist people facing hardship over the holidays.

North Hills Community Outreach (NHCO), an interfaith organization committed to addressing the needs of people in crisis, hardship and poverty, has created a number of Sharing Projects such as Winter Coat Shop, Thanksgiving on Every Table and Holiday Toy Shop. Through its Holiday Toy Shop project, NHCO will collect new, unwrapped gifts between Nov. 11 and Dec. 11 of this year. The collection process happens early and gifts are not wrapped because parents are then able to choose an item specifically for their own child, rather than receiving a gift that may not be a good fit. Gift items for teens are especially needed.

Jennifer Kissel, director of communications for NHCO, said that 1,200 to 1,300 children typically receive gifts each year and that recipients are usually clients who receive other services from the organization. In addition to accepting donations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, NHCO has added two weekend collection dates (9 a.m. until noon on Saturday, Nov. 28, and Saturday, Dec. 5) at their location on Ferguson Road in Allison Park. More information is available at

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh coordinates Mitzvah Menorah, an annual Chanukah gift drive for children and teens. Children and Family Director Ann Haalman said that the group typically gives out between 50 and 150 gifts each year. Collection dates are November 13 through December 1, and presents can be dropped off at the JCC location on Kane Boulevard in Mt. Lebanon. New as well as clean, gently used items are accepted. Gifts are distributed through the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry and through South Hills Interfaith Ministry. For more information, contact

The Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber of Commerce, located in Wexford, sponsors an annual program called The Giving Tree. Member businesses volunteer to put up Christmas trees decorated with tags throughout November, and then individuals can choose a tag, purchase the gift item indicated on the tag, and return the gift to the tree. Executive Director Jim Boltz expects to put out 400 gift tags this year and said that the group met every need in 2014. “It’s heartwarming to be able to help. People are asking for basics like blankets and clothes,” he said. Businesses as large as Allegheny Health Network and as small as a single realtor with one or two staff members contribute to the event, which culminates with a party on Dec. 10 to present the gifts to five charitable organizations. More information can be found at

Presents for Patients, a program through St. Barnabas Charities, matches patients in local hospitals and nursing facilities to volunteers who want to choose and deliver a gift in person. Founded in 1984, the goal of Presents for Patients is to help patients cope with the loneliness they may feel over the holidays by providing both gifts and visitors. Details are available at

Children of incarcerated parents are the recipients of gifts through Lydia’s Place. The organization offers a range of services to help female offenders and their dependent children rebuild their lives. To find out more about donating gifts for the holidays, visit

Toys for Tots is a nationwide campaign administered by the U.S. Marine Corps, and is active in both Allegheny and Butler County. The Pittsburgh-area campaign annually distributes over 300,000 toys to more than 50,000 children. Donations of new, unwrapped toys are collected throughout the North Hills area through Dec. 24. Information is available at