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Urban Mission of Steubenville preparing to spread love for the holidays

GETTING READY — Cynthia Lytle, community development director for Urban Mission Ministries, juggles her son, Wayne, while organizing some toys for the mission’s annual giveaway that kicks off Monday in a new location — at the Seventh Street Plaza in Steubenville. (Photo by Janice Kiaski)

STEUBENVILLE — Although it’s a bit hectic, the Christmas season remains a wonderful time of year, Urban Mission Ministries representatives agree.

The sentiment persevered despite some “controlled-chaos” preparations for what begins Monday at the Seventh Street Plaza in downtown Steubenville.

The mission’s Kids Christmas Shop and Teen Stocking program distributions kick off, running from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

“Our Christmas kids and teen stocking program was put into place for families who come to our pantry on a regular basis,” explained Cynthia Lytle, the mission’s community development director.

“This is our way to provide for those children as well as provide a little relief for the parents, so just as much as it is for the kids, it’s for the parents as well.”

Lytle was among mission staff and volunteers busy organizing toys, gift wrap, teen stockings with personal care items and holiday decorations in recent days, getting ready for families in need to come and “shop” for gifts for their children.

The mission has been and continues to collect new toys for boys and girls from birth to 12 in preparation for it, along with gift cards, toiletries and candy for teens.

“For the first week we’re preparing to serve close to 500 families through Christmas Kids and teen stockings,” Lytle said.

“Those families will come and be assisted by volunteers, and they’ll also get a chance to come — this is new for us this year — we’ll have a decoration shop where they can shop for Christmas decorations for their home for a reasonable price, anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar, so they’ll be able to pass through there before they come and get their toys,” Lytle said of the planned set-up.

“In addition to their toys, on the way out, we have wrapping paper and gift boxes and gift bags so they can take those items home and wrap them themselves, and there also are stocking stuffers on their way out, so that’s what is going to happen,” Lytle said.

“This is the first year we’re having the Christmas program in the plaza,” she continued. “That’s very exciting for us and obviously this provides us with space to do a lot more than what we could do previously.”

This week marks phase one of helping those in need.

“Our second week is Santa’s Recycle Shop, and that’s open to some of our families as well and the community,” Lytle said. “They will get to benefit from new and gently used toys, and it’s usually a good mix, just as good a selection as the first week,” she added. Those dates and times are 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 16 and 17.

The preparedness stage is an opportunity to assess how supportive the community is, mission representatives noted, but also to note what’s needed.

That would include new and gently used toys for ages birth to 12 and items for teen stockings.

For information, contact Lytle at (740) 282-8010 or clytle@urbanmission.org.

“We also are in need of volunteers for both weeks,” she said. “As elves they are able to assist our families as they shop so you’ve got to keep in mind the mom who has more than one child,” Lytle used as an example. “We are giving away three toys per child. Her arms are going to get really full at one point so that elf is assisting with taking the first set of toys, taking it to the checkout, helping take things to their cars, different things. They are here to assist and make the process easier for our families,” she said.

“We are grateful to be able to provide this for our families, and we know that this time of the year is stressful for a lot of families so if we can provide this and take something off of their plate, we’re glad to do it,” Lytle said. “We are grateful for the donations that have come in thus far, but again, we’re trying to meet that goal of 500 and for that second week we’re prepared to serve between 150 to 200 families.”

Anyone interested in volunteer opportunities can contact Tiffany Beckwith, the mission’s community engagement director, at (740) 282-8010 or tbeckwith@urbanmission.org.

“I actually do have volunteers signed up for first three days, so we’ll need some for the second week,” Beckwith said, estimating the need for about “36 good elves.”

“If there’s something that you want to help you jump into the spirit of Christmas, this is it,” Beckwith said, adding, “This is the time of the year that you can realize how amazing our community is because everybody comes together and really makes Christmas great for kids that maybe wouldn’t have that great of a Christmas so this is the time of year when you get to see what an honor it is to be in this community.”

The Rev. Ashley Steele, the mission’s executive director, agreed.

“I want to extend my appreciation to the community,” Steele said. “This is that wonderful time of the year when we see folks from all over the place come and help and serve and give and show love.

“It brings our year of ‘Love Works,’ our 60th anniversary theme, to an end in showing that love is truly at work right now, not to mention what Christmas is all about — God’s love for all of us.”

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com)

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