• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Making a merrier Christmas for those less-fortunate

SARAH GREGORY, a fifth-grader at St. Leo School, carried an armload of socks while helping to sort donated items for this year's Christmas Store last week. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Former students returned to St. Leo School last Friday and Saturday so they could help out during this year's Christmas Store - an annual event that ensures less-fortunate children in the community will have a merrier Christmas on Dec. 25. Shopping for their children's Christmas gifts means a lot to these parents. Giving them that opportunity has become a cherished holiday tradition for students and teachers at St. Leo School and parishioners at St. Leo Church, who support the event with their time and donations. "It doesn't feel like Christmas starts until we do the Christmas Store," says Molly Dawson, 21. She's a senior at Western Kentucky University now, and has been helping out at the Christmas Store since she was sixth-grader at St. Leo School. Now in its 12 year, the parents of more than 750 children shopped for toys and clothes at last year's Christmas Store. Parents shopped for more than 800 children this year as word about the event spread on social media. "The more that we can help - the better," says Helena DiBiasie, principal at St. Leo School. She says all types of donations were up this year, with parishioners from St. Leo Church being especially generous with monetary donations.

WILL SEITZ, a fourth-grader at St. Leo School, took a look around boxes stacked on a cart while helping to sort toys and other donated items for this year's Christmas Store last week. Landon Yost, another fourth-grader, is also pictured. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

"This is a wonderful opportunity for people to come together as a community of faith (by) . reaching out to those who are less-fortunate," says the Rev. Danny Schwendeman. He describes St. Leo's school and church families coming together to help others as a wonderful example of how to build community. "Every time there's a need, the people respond and go above and beyond the call of duty," says Schwendeman, celebrating his seventh Christmas at St. Leo Church. "This has a really good message to the entire parish - not just the school side of the parish or the church side of the parish," he says. "We're a community of faith built on living stones." Dawson has been volunteering at the Christmas Store for 11 years and says, "I would not be anywhere else . I love it." Because she's taken on adult responsibilities since becoming a college student in Bowling Green, Dawson understands the value of money and how families may need a little extra help during tough times. "Toys are expensive. Kids are expensive, but it's hard to explain to a kid why . they (don't get as many) toys" as other children at Christmas, she says. Former St. Leo student Michael Tincher helps out at the Christmas Store whenever he can because of the joy he gets from seeing less-fortunate kids having "a good Christmas." And he's pleased that this holiday tradition has grown since he was a student at St. Leo School. "It seems like every year it keeps getting bigger and bigger. So just seeing it improve is a really great feeling," he says. Now a 21-year-old student at Western Kentucky University who hopes to become a police officer, Tincher describes volunteering at St. Leo's Christmas Store and helping others as being important to him this time of year. "At Christmastime," says DiBiasie, "it's even more important that (our students and former students) see that it's not just about getting, but it's really about giving."

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