By Tony DeGol
Even Santa Claus needs a little help sometimes.
Here in Altoona-Johnstown, the big guy in the red suit is once again getting enthusiastic assistance from Joshua Harshberger who steers the annual Catholic Charities Christmas outreach program.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time now people who benefit most likely are families going through a rough patch this year,” Harshberger said. “We have helped them throughout the year. We keep their names, and we ask if they want to be part of the program. At Christmas we get in touch with them to see if they still need help, and many do.”
Harshberger is a great elf. He considers the program a labor of love, and one of the most important things he does all year at Catholic Charities. And he appreciates the loving support he receives from so many in the community who, like him, love sharing Christmas joy with others.
“Sponsors can vary from schools to businesses to churches or to just individuals who want to make a difference,” he explained. “They will essentially take a whole family and provide Christmas for them from gifts to grocery shopping. They do a great job.
Harshberger says more people than ever are turning to Catholic Charities these days because of the pandemic. The silver lining is that more donors than ever are stepping up to the plate.
“The pandemic has brought a lot more donors and sponsors, but the need has grown,” Harshberger relayed. “It has turned into a different kind of need. We’re dealing a lot more with people who have never needed help before and they don’t know how to go about getting it.”
COVID-19 has prompted changes to so many aspects of daily life, and that includes operations at Catholic Charities and how the Christmas program is unfolding this year.
“Obviously, there’s going to be changes,” pointed out Harshberger. “There’s going to be no one in and out of our building. We bought a fogger machine to fog down everything that comes in. This year, it’s going to be more scheduled drop-offs. There are some changes, but we were able to keep the program basically the same, which we were happy with.”
Thanks to the generous sponsors, Harshberger estimates that 130 children and their families are benefiting from the Catholic Charities Christmas program this year.
It’s a lot of work, but it truly highlights the impact of Catholic Charities in the community, and it makes Harshberger’s Christmas a lot brighter.
“Those weeks before Christmas when it all comes together, I am completely happy with everything I’ve done,” he insisted. “We are serving our mission. It’s as simple as that. Helping provide basic things for people and Christmas for kids, that’s my mission, and I’m happy to do it. That’s why we’re here.”
Editor’s Note: The Catholic Charities Christmas program will be highlighted on the upcoming Christmas TV show “Joy to the World: Christmas in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown” December 20 at 1:00 p.m. on WATM ABC 23 and December 25 at 7:00 a.m. on WWCP FOX 8.
[Photo: Josh Harshberger collects gifts for families as part of the 2018 Catholic Charities Christmas program.]