PENN >> Christmas came early for hundreds of families living in poverty in Chester County.
More than 100 volunteers — many of them students — helped about 270 families to a free day of shopping at the Technical College High School, Pennock’s Bridge Campus Saturday morning. The families, who were referred by community agencies, received a $40 voucher and were able to pick out new toys. They were also able to browse through hundreds of gently used items such as clothing, Christmas decorations, video games, DVDs, jewelry, hats, gloves, books and board games, and claim whatever they wanted.
“Having seen the need, I knew our students and staff and our community members would rise to the challenge of helping those most in need during the holidays, and they have,” said Brian Hughes, TCHS Pennock’s Bridge principal.
Now in its 13th year, the Holiday Hope Chest was started by Duane and Patty Knecht, and has grown from a grassroots movement to one that involves Chester County Intermediate Unit programs, students and community partners. Last month, about 180 families in financial need were served at TCHS Brandywine campus, and next week, families at TCHS Pickering Campus in Phoenixville will be served. In all, about 600 families in Chester County will benefit from Holiday Hope Chest.
“I would say 98 percent of any proceeds goes directly to the families,” said Duane Knecht. “We have no staff, and the kids’ involvement is the best part.”
Duane Knecht said he and his wife started Holiday Hope Chest after hearing a sermon about loaves of bread and fish and what people should do with their excess. “We knew there was a need,” he said. “It’s great to help out.”
Patty Knecht said it’s refreshing to see the students actively help needy families to have a bright holiday.
“We could not do this without the CCIU and the Technical College high schools,” she said. “Our vision is to serve the whole county, and we are getting closer.”
Patty Knecht said that at a recent Holiday Hope Chest, a man who had to walk to and from work 5 miles each day claimed a bicycle.
During the event, volunteers served as gift wrappers or personal shopping assistants.
“To see teens get out of bed this early to volunteer and give back to their community is just great to see,” said Anthony Saraceno, communications specialist at TCHS Pennock’s Bridge Campus.
All of the new items were purchased well below retail value, as much as 60 percent, in cooperation with stores. Most of the items were stored during the year at the Knechts’ house and their neighbors.’
The items available at the Holiday Hope Chest came from community donations staged throughout the year, especially at St. Joseph’s Church in Downingtown, the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Kennett Square and the CCIU schools. The Allied Health students from TCHS Pennock’s Bridge Campus raised $6,000 to purchase brand new items for the event.
Community partners include: Episcopal Church of the Advent; Community, Youth and Women’s Alliance; Chester County Women’s Alliance; Maternal and Child Health Consortium, The Lord’s Pantry; the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County; HOOD, a Partnership for Youth Employment; Pathstone; Advanced Treatment Systems; IHM Family Literacy and St. Joseph’s House.
As an IRS-designated 501(c)(3) public charity organization since 2014, Holiday Hope Chest also benefited financial assistance from the Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union’s Kennett Square branch.