Approximately 200 elementary students were surprised with an early Christmas at Second Annual Lehigh Valley Labor Council Toy Drive

It was a magical week for the students at Roosevelt and Sheridan elementary schools, Community Schools in the Allentown School District, where Santa came early with other super(hero) guests to deliver books, presents, treats and holiday cheer.

The holiday magic started with an early delivery from Santa on Thursday, December 16 to the Roosevelt Elementary AS (Autistic Support) class. TeenWorksTM, an affinity group of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley (UWGLV), adopted the class of about 30 students and gifted presents they had on their list.

“Every year, TeenWorks has a holiday project and this year they adopted the AS class at Roosevelt. Some people in our community have obstacles we can’t imagine and this helps provide some relief,” said Dean Donaher, Labor Liaison at UWGLV. “TeenWorks involves all aspects of the community for resources and financial support so kids can have an equal chance,” Donaher added.

“It feels great to give back to those in need, especially during these tough times,” said Anna Lorenzo, TeenWorks Board Member and junior at Parkland High School. “It creates a sense of community and brings us together. It makes us realize that you never know how much of an impact you can have on another person,” Lorenzo added.

On Friday, December 17, Capital Blue Cross, local labor unions and dozens of volunteers gathered at UAW Local 677 on Mack Blvd in Allentown to load up more than 1,000 gifts into “sleighs” that included a Mack truck, a fire engine, and a LANta bus. Excited students had front row seats to the parade of vehicles carrying the gifts and surprise guests Santa, aka Allentown Mayor-elect Matt Tuerk, IronPigs’ FeRROUS and FeFe and movie characters.

Santa, aka Allentown Mayor-elect Matt Tuerk with IronPigs’ FeRROUS and FeFe

“Today was an emotional rollercoaster,” stated Gregg Potter, Capital Blue Cross Senior Labor Relations Consultant and TeenWorks Board Member, as he facilitated the loading of the gifts. “Allentown is a diverse community—a melting pot. Having Community Schools is so important because it gives everyone a fair shot,” added Potter.

“It’s a special day today seeing the kids be kids again, chanting “Santa Santa Santa” and bursting with excitement over the characters,” said Samantha Johns, Community School Coordinator and organizer of the toy distribution at Roosevelt.

Roosevelt and Sheridan elementary schools serve a diverse population and the Toy Drive respected and embraced that diversity. The 1,200 books provided by Bev Bradley and Lehigh Valley Cops-n-Kids had diverse characters and came in different languages and Mayor-elect Tuerk spoke Spanish to the bilingual kids he interacted with.

“Each kid is going to receive 2 books, 6 presents and a whole bunch of clothing,” Johns shared. “After 2 crazy years of COVID, I’m glad to have folks come in safely to volunteer and make this drive possible. The kids will have an amazing, magical Christmas because of everybody who supported us today,” she added.

The annual toy drive is made possible by the coordination and support of the Lehigh Valley Labor Council, Capital Blue Cross, TeenWorks of UWGLV, Community School coordinators and all of the generous donors.

TeenWorks is made up of a diverse group of local middle and high school students and local members of organized labor. This organization, which operates solely in the Lehigh Valley, began in 1999 as a partnership with the labor community and United Way. The group meets monthly and helps to fund community service projects throughout the Lehigh Valley from various youth groups. Over 500 organizations have received grants of up to $1,000.00 for their projects. In addition to funding projects, TeenWorks board members have a strong group of volunteers who can be counted on to do anything from building shelves to distributing mulch.

TeenWorks and Capital Blue Cross have shared the financial support for Roosevelt for the past four years. TeenWorks and Capital Blue Cross entered into this unique relationship over twenty years ago and have produced significant results.

Special thanks to the groups who provided donations/financial support for this year’s toy drive:
Allentown Education Association
Allentown Fire Department
ATU Local 956
Capital Blue Cross
Carpenters Local 167
Cohen, Feeley, Altemose & Rambo
IAFF Local 302
IBEW Local 375
JNESO District Council 1
Lehigh Valley Cops-N-Kids
Lehigh Valley Ironpigs
Lehigh Valley Print Center
Mack Trucks
Magical Memories of Muhlenberg College
Mr. Francis Loughney
Operating Engineers Local 542
PSEA Eastern Region
Reading/Berks Labor Council
SEIU Local 668
Teamsters Local 773
UAW Local 677
United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley
Workers United

Photo credit: Marco Calderon Photography and United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley