Project Gifts set to brighten holiday season for area youth

Santa Claus will be making a special trip to Elk County on Dec. 17. He and Mrs. Claus are set to arrive that morning in a Pennsylvania State Police cruiser and travel to locations in St. Marys, Johnsonburg and Ridgway to hand out toys to area youth through Project Gifts for Elk County.According to Project Gifts president Bob Roberts, the toy distribution this year will be held at Project Gifts for Elk County on Depot Street in St. Marys, the Johnsonburg Municipal Building, and the Ridgway High School. "We rotate the towns," Roberts said. "This year it is St. Marys' turn first from 9 to 10 a.m., then we move on to Johnsonburg from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., and finally we will be in Ridgway from 1 to 2 p.m."The annual toy distribution services about 450 area youth. "Each of those children leaves the facility with about $40-50 worth of toys, so it's a combination bundle of what we've collected," Roberts said. "We try to even out the dollar amounts so that things are equal."The program focuses on Elk County children age 10 and under whose families meet certain requirements. "Our requirements are - and they're generally handled by food banks and other agencies that deal with that - if they qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, they qualify for us, or [if they have] other extenuating needs," Roberts explained.