By Lauren Wanko
Trenton resident Angelique MacLennan is picking up Christmas gifts for her kids. Except she didn’t buy the bikes — someone else did.
When asked if she knew who bought them, she said, “No, it feels like I have lots of angels out there that are willing to help other families they don’t even know.”
Staffers at HomeFront — a social service agency that serves the working poor and homeless — have about 1,000 donors they too call angels, strangers who donate gifts to children they’ll probably never meet.
“This is really about the spirit of Christmas,” said HomeFront founder Connie Mercer.
HomeFront’s clients are given a wish list. Their children write two gifts they’d like for the holiday season. Donors fulfill those wishes.
“Christmas and birthdays need to be special for kids. Our homeless Kids miss out on so much of the joy being kids. This is just a time we’re saying you’re just like all the other kids, that they matter, that they’re loved,” Mercer said.
This is HomeFront’s 24th Christmas Wishes Drive. Over the last week, volunteers have distributed more than 6,000 gifts to about 3,000 children. They even have room for extra presents for recently homeless families who didn’t fill out a wish list.
The donors range from corporations to churches to individuals like Mandy Holanda. She hosted a luncheon and asked her friends to bring a new toy or two.
“I felt like Santa Claus, I really did,” she said.
She ended up donating about 500 toys.
“I think it’s important to tell our children also pass on the word, help others. Help others that are in need because it could be any of us at any time,” she said.
“It feels better to give then to get,” said 12-year-old Will Kocsis.
Kocsis and Teagan Brush caroled throughout their neighborhood with friends, accepting donations along the way for HomeFront’s Christmas Wishes Drive. They collected about $275.
“It feels really good because we’re really thankful and you can’t take everything for granted,” 10-year-old Brush said.
“We get enough things for Christmas and I don’t think that we need any extra. I think people who need it, need to get all the money and stuff to get their presents,” Kocsis said.
During the holiday season, HomeFront’s warehouse is transformed into Santa’s workshop. Here volunteers sort and bag the families’ presents.
“I understand how much has been given to me. So, I think it’s important for everyone else to experience that same feeling too,” said 15-year-old Adigya Seshadri.
“It’s the greatest feeling to make someone’s life better by coming to volunteer here,” said 15-year-old Uttam Rao.
Volunteers and staffers give the gifts to the parents, not the children.
“Our parents feel so inadequate because they are struggling financially. This is one thing where our parents need to feel empowered. They’re doing what parents do. They provide for their children,” Mercer said.
MacLennan says this act of kindness has already inspired her to donate what she can to HomeFront. As her children grow, she plans to donate these bikes back too.
“I want to do the same thing when I get back on my feet, be able to help other kids,” she said.
“We get lots of presents from wonderful people but perhaps the gifts that make me the happiest are the ones that come from clients,” said Mercer.
For now though, MacLennan eagerly waits to see her children’s happy faces as they unwrap these bikes on Christmas day.