The Christmas holiday season continued its relentless expansion this year, easily overlapping today's Thanksgiving observance and seemingly setting its sights on Halloween.
For those who treasure the spiritual enrichment of the yuletide, the blitz of commercialism is coupled, thankfully, with an early start to the charity and compassion that should resound through the season.
It could be found last week in Oakland, where the First-Year Advisory Board of Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering joined with campus police to launch their ninth annual Toys for Tots campaign.
To say the occasion was sweet would be an understatement. On display was a gingerbread village with a hand-sculpted sugar Santa and his reindeer. The creation by Pittsburgh Athletic Association pastry chefs David Watson, Lori Baldwin and Alex Baker took a month to build and used 100 pounds of sugar, 75 pounds of chocolate, 22 pounds of butter and more than 50 pounds of flour.
The spirit also could be found in Lawrenceville, at Pittsburgh Cares, the nonprofit agency that promotes volunteerism, where recruitment was underway for "elves at the warehouse" groups that will sort the thousands of donated items at the Toys for Tots storage facility.
Today marks the official start of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Goodfellows Fund campaign, which raises money for the Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army's Treasures for Children programs.
Over the coming weeks, we will tell you about families who are grateful for the lift they get from the Goodfellows Fund, and the volunteers and agencies that help to preserve the joy of Christmas for tens of thousands who might otherwise awaken with no toys under the tree.
At Carnegie Mellon, the Toys for Tots campaign has grown, tripling in size, and organizers expect to deliver 30 large boxes of toys to the Marines.
All over the district, countless other organizations will collect and donate toys, which are distributed by nonprofit and charitable groups and at open houses that will be held at the warehouse in December.
"There is such a big drive and passion for it," said Trevor Hadick of Albion, N.Y., who heads the campaign with fellow first-year CMU students Wei Mon Lu and Paola Aguilar. Toys for Tots "is a great program. I wish it was bigger and everyone knew about it," he said.
The engineering students were selling s'mores on campus for $1 apiece to raise money to purchase toys, with a goal of raising $1,000, Mr. Hadick said. Drop boxes for toy donations will be at 12 locations on the campus through Dec. 9.
In the first year of the campus program, volunteers delivered the toys just as the Marines were running short, with families waiting in line, said CMU police Officer Donald Campbell, who has volunteered all nine years.
He was behind a partition where the toys were being sorted and saw a boy, maybe 6 or 7 years old, peering through a gap in the wall.
"I see these little eyes, and I'm looking back, and then I hear him ask his mom, 'Does this mean I get a toy for Christmas?'" Officer Campbell recalled. "That kind of stays with you."
Since 1947, the Goodfellows Fund has helped to ensure that underprivileged children experience the joy and wonderment of Christmas.
A tradition of Goodfellows is that we acknowledge every contribution, no matter the size, in the Post-Gazette. You can make a tax-deductible donation using the coupon that appears with this story, or online at www.post-gazette.com/goodfellows.
How to get toys
The Toys for Tots program will hold open houses next month to distribute toys to parents and guardians of needy children.
They will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 13 and 14 at Guardian Storage Solutions, 2839 Liberty Ave., Strip District. The Marines request that families register by Nov. 30 online at this address: http://north-versailles-pa.toysfortots.org/local-coordinator-sites/lco-sites/default.aspx, or by calling 412-852-9994. Those families will have priority on the distribution dates.
Parents and guardians are required to bring photo ID for themselves, a birth certificate for each child (children up to age 12 are eligible) and proof of need: an EBT card, Access card or SNAP card.
Those wishing to volunteer can visit the Toys for Tots website listed above or www.pittsburghcares.org.
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868.