Guardian angels swoop in for kids

Mogue Wis­niewski, 5, sits on Santa’s lap at Sat­urday’s An­gels of Christ­mas lunch­eon which provides Christ­mas gifts to dis­ad­vant­aged fam­il­ies. (ABI RE­IMOLD / FOR THE TIMES)

About two dec­ades ago, Tom Kutch­ner and three friends had a dis­cus­sion about giv­ing back to the less for­tu­nate dur­ing the Christ­mas sea­son.

“We were at a Fly­ers game, and they were get­ting killed,” he re­called. “We had sea­son passes and real­ized how good we had it. We star­ted each giv­ing twenty dol­lars a week for fifty weeks.”

That first year, they donated $4,000 and gave it to the St. Leo Knights of Colum­bus, which dis­trib­utes food bas­kets dur­ing the hol­i­days.

On one vis­it, the men met a Ta­cony wo­man rais­ing her three grand­chil­dren. She star­ted giv­ing back some of the food items.

“I only have a toast­er oven,” she told them.

That vis­it con­vinced them to send the fam­ily to din­ner, but more im­port­ant, to ex­pand their ef­forts. Today, Kutch­ner is founder and pres­id­ent of An­gels of Christ­mas, a non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tion that hosts a party each Decem­ber for needy fam­il­ies.

This year’s cel­eb­ra­tion, the 18th, took place on Sat­urday af­ter­noon at St. Domin­ic’s spa­cious Mari­an Hall. 

Some 300 people, in­clud­ing 175 chil­dren, en­joyed the fest­iv­it­ies. In all, 69 fam­il­ies had a spe­cial day for them­selves as Christ­mas nears.

Churches and re­lief or­gan­iz­a­tion identi­fy the fam­il­ies. The day in­cludes a meal, and plenty of fun, in­clud­ing clowns, face paint­ers, bal­loon artists, ma­gi­cians and, of course, Santa Claus.

Santa posed for pic­tures with fam­il­ies and was es­pe­cially gen­er­ous to the chil­dren. He gave them one un­wrapped gift to en­joy that day and three wrapped presents to open on Christ­mas. The young­sters also picked out books, stuffed an­im­als and DVDs.

The chil­dren fill out a form in­dic­at­ing which kinds of gifts they’d like.

“We buy spe­cial presents for every kid,” Kutch­ner said. “It’s very per­son­al­ized.”

The chil­dren gen­er­ally don’t ask for ex­pens­ive items.

“They ask for pa­ja­mas with warm feet, things we take for gran­ted,” said Mike Server­son, the board sec­ret­ary who has been in­volved with the group for years.

Santa is as­sisted by An­gels of Christ­mas vo­lun­teers, who go to the Toys R Us store near Frank­lin Mills mall each Dec. 8 to shop for gifts. They choose that day be­cause the St. Hubert High School stu­dents who help them are off for the feast of the Im­macu­late Con­cep­tion.

The An­gels are grate­ful that the As­so­ci­ated Pol­ish Home al­lows them to store and wrap the gifts at their Academy Road loc­a­tion.

People of all ages help out at the party, from in­di­vidu­als to groups like the sev­enth- and eighth-grade girls bas­ket­ball team at Our Lady of Cal­vary.

“Every­body’s a vo­lun­teer,” Server­son said.

“It’s a col­lec­tion of every­day people look­ing to make a dif­fer­ence,” Kutch­ner said.

The budget for the party is about $12,000. An an­nu­al com­edy show at Fran Lee Cater­ers helps pay the tab. Oth­er money comes from cal­en­dar sales and private donors, in­clud­ing Kutch­ner’s three friends who helped start what has be­come a char­ity that some fam­il­ies look for­ward to every year. Long­time sup­port­er 3rd Fed Bank sells taf­fies and donates gifts from a “giv­ing tree.”

The An­gels also give dona­tions to a battered wo­men’s shel­ter, a North Phil­adelphia church and the In­ter­faith Hos­pit­al­ity Net­work, which as­sists home­less fam­il­ies.

No dona­tion is too small.

“Our slo­gan is, ‘Give a little to do a lot,’ ” Kutch­ner said.

Bry­ant Dalton, who lives in Delaware, was ser­i­ously in­jured in a work­place in­cid­ent and has not been able to re­turn to work. He and his wife Dawn and two chil­dren —  8-year-old Bryce and 5-year-old Bry­anna — had a good time at their third An­gels of Christ­mas party. They were re­ferred by Dalton’s former boss.

“The kids are so ex­cited. They have been talk­ing about Decem­ber 15th for three weeks,” Dalton said. “On the ride up here, my daugh­ter said she couldn’t wait un­til she got a poodle bal­loon. My son likes gir­affes. They are really happy they got to see Santa.”

Some of the An­gels ac­know­ledge spoil­ing their own chil­dren, but they vo­lun­teer their time to help kids who might not find too many presents un­der their Christ­mas tree.

“It’s help­ing someone who needs help at this point in time,” Server­son said. “The grat­i­fic­a­tion I get out of it is see­ing the kids’ faces light up. That’s what it’s all about.” ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

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