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The spirit of Christmas

Tillie’s Touch and St. Matthew’s Church provides food, clothes and toys to families in need

Gannon Abreu, 13, and his father Danny Abreu pick a paper ornament off of the Tillie’s Touch Christmas Wish Tree on Dec. 1. The Abreus, who live in East Syracuse, are “adopting” a local child for Christmas this year.

Gannon Abreu, 13, and his father Danny Abreu pick a paper ornament off of the Tillie’s Touch Christmas Wish Tree on Dec. 1. The Abreus, who live in East Syracuse, are “adopting” a local child for Christmas this year. Allie Wenner

— And finally, Tillie’s Touch will also drop off a $20 gift certificate for food (last year it was for Wegmans), canned goods and fresh produce to each family to use for Christmas dinner along with the toys and clothing.

“That’s the rewarding part,” Johnson said. “Obviously, it’s nice to be thanked for what you’re doing, but to see the reaction of the folks that we’re actually handing these gifts off to is amazing.”

This is the first year that Johnson and the Tillie’s Touch board members and volunteers are “on their own” for this project. Their event was inspired by the volunteers from St. Matthew’s Church in East Syracuse, who do a similar gift distribution to ESM families each Christmas, and Tillie’s Touch began its work with this event by working directly with the church.

St. Matt’s gift distribution

For almost 40 years, St. Matthew’s Church has been giving back to the ESM community by providing hundreds of local families the supplies necessary to ensure that everyone can have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas. Like Tillie’s Touch, they’re giving out food, clothing and toys to families in need.

“It’s very rewarding. It certainly is a feel-good project, but it’s also a necessary project,” said Barbara Hemmerlein, a member of the Christmas committee at St. Matt’s who has been working on the event for the last 26 years. “We know that there are a lot of families in this area that would have no Christmas if we didn’t help.”

St. Matt’s has been doing the Christmas Gift Distribution each December for nearly 40 years, but it operates a food pantry year-round. Hemmerlein said that the church averages about 160 families each month, but that number can spike to as high as 281, which is how many families it served this November. And when families came in to pick up their food for Thanksgiving, they had the chance to sign up for the Christmas Distribution. And this season, St. Matt’s is helping out a record-high 230 families.

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