BY JOHN E. USALIS
FRACKVILLE — Making the Christmas season brighter for families who can use some help is the goal of Project Cheer, now in its third year of bringing cheer during the holiday season.
Founded by Frackville police Officer Anthony Kankowski and his wife, Heather, the project started in 2018 to assist one family at Christmastime, but a few more families were helped in 2019 through the police department’s coverage area of Frackville and Gilberton.
“We were actually working with (late Gilberton Mayor) Mary Lou Hannon, God rest her soul, and she told us about a family in Gilberton whose mother had passed away,” Heather said. “We thought it would be nice to do something to cheer up the kids.”
“The Frackville Elks have a free turkey giveaway and they called me and gave me a couple of turkeys to give to a family who needs them,” Anthony said. “I called my wife and she said there is a family in Gilberton who could use some food. So after giving them a turkey, and after learning about the situation, I said we have to do something for this family. It was only for one family.”
“And we didn’t think it would take off,” Heather said. “So we got together with some borough workers and other police and we all put in our own money. That’s how it started off and we gave the family a Christmas with Santa Claus. I’m Mrs. Claus.”
Heather said the word got out and people were asking about what then got named Project Cheer.
“We were contacted by the Friendship Fire Auxiliary, Michael J. O’Connor’s office, who wanted to sponsor a family, Primerica Financial Services,” Anthony said. “We’ve heard from Bova Property Management, Hidden River Credit Union and Adams Chiropractic.”
“We were then able to extend it from one family to four,” Heather said. “This year, we’re hoping to extend it even more because we’re getting a lot more feedback from places who want to donate.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some changes in how the donations will get to the families.
“We used to go to each home the night before Christmas. This year, we’re probably going to use the council chambers probably a week before Christmas,” Heather said. “We’ll decorate the room and arrange for Santa and Mrs. Claus. There will be snacks and make it a fun thing.”
“Instead of trying to rush it, and because of COVID and trying to crowd in to everybody’s apartment or house, we’ll have it here,” Anthony said. “This is a larger area.”
In addition to donations, nominations of eligible families in Frackville and Gilberton are being accepted. The Christmas meal includes a ham, instant mashed potatoes, stuffing, canned vegetables and dessert. Heather would like to include a gift card to a local supermarket for the family for milk, bread and other items.
Any nominations of families should be made by Thanksgiving Day, or at the latest, by Dec. 1.
Toy donations should be for children ages 5 to 12.
The Kankowskis plan to contact North Schuylkill School District to offer community hours for students.
Another help to the project is Holiday Cheer, which is a “pop up vendor and basket auction” event from noon to 4 p.m. Nov. 28 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 29 at Joe Thurs Automotive and Black Rock Trucks, 109 Firemans Road, Altamont, just off Morea Road near Frackville. Chinese auction tickets are $5 a sheet or five sheets for $20. Tickets will be pulled at 2 p.m. Nov. 29. The drawing will be live on the Project Cheer Facebook page.
“This year, COVID has affected so many parts of our lives,” Heather said. “We are learning to do things differently, and shopping is one of them. To make the holiday season easier, we decided to bring the shopping to you. Visit us at our two-day vendor event and Chinese auction. Once again, Joe Thurs Automotive and Black Rock Trucks have graciously opened their doors and are letting us utilize their space.”
As of Sunday, registered vendors are Paparazzi, Tommy’s Wooden Designs, Scentsy, Ketones, Color Street, Pampered Chef, Tastefully Simple, Pure Romance, Aromatherapy and Essential Oils, Irish Fashion and Homemade Wreaths, Cookie Crazie Company, ZF Decals, Mary Kay, Fresh Made on Pear Street, Smoking Soles, Gravestone Films, King Coal Winery, Crafts by George, The Body Shop and Thirty-One Gifts.
Food trucks registered are Trish’s Treats LLC, Main Street Moonshine, Little Richards and Rush Stuff.
Donation cans are located at Unity Food Mart, Exxon, Dutch Kitchen, Lewie’s Restaurant and the Quart House.
To contact Project Cheer, go to its Facebook page, email email@example.com, call 570-400-2163 or call Officer Kankowski at 570-874-0238. Donations may be dropped off at the Frackville borough office or the police department office in the municipal building, 42 S. Center St. Monetary donations by check should be written to the “Frackville Police Department.”
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-628-6023