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Volunteers wrap gifts in Center Moriches

A child sits on the floor of the

A child sits on the floor of the Center Moriches Clayton Huey Elementary School gymnasium and wraps presents for the Santa's Workshop program, which donates gifts to families in need. (Dec. 17, 2011) Credit: Desiree Keegan

Wearing Santa hats and listening to Christmas music, volunteers at Clayton Huey Elementary School in Center Moriches feverishly wrapped hundreds of presents Saturday for 39 needy families.

Before heading out to deliver the gifts, the more than 50 volunteers wrapped everything from bikes and toys to gift baskets and household items as part of the Moriches Community Center’s ninth annual Santa’s Workshop.

“This is the most wonderful organization that helps out families in need in our area,” said Robin Leuthardt, 46, of Center Moriches. “There are a lot of needy families out there but to be able to help out in your own community is a wonderful thing.”

The community center raised about $13,000 to purchase gifts for families in need. The fundraising efforts began shortly after Labor Day with a pet parade, a dance-a-thon, two bake sales and a basketball tournament.

“Our efforts were great overall,” said Kathleen Johnson, co-executive director of the Moriches Community Center.

Anthony Parlato, co-executive director of the center, has been with the organization for 13 years. Prior to working at the community center, Parlato ran a boys group home in Yaphank and held similar fundraisers to help donate gifts for the boys in his home.

“I didn’t want that idea to die,” said Parlato, 42, of Center Moriches. “It’s been tremendous this year even with the economy. It’s all been pretty incredible.”

Parlato said extra donations received will go toward outreach after the holidays for food, fuel and clothing for families.

Lisa Sanders, who has been volunteering her time at the organization for 13 years, says she enjoys seeing their efforts come together.

“It’s really very, very important to me,” said Sanders, 45, of Center Moriches. “To me this is the culmination of Christmas. This is my favorite day of the year -- to see this all come together, and know that all of these people are going to have a great Christmas.”

Jason Albert, a senior at Center Moriches High School, has been a volunteer at the community center for nine years.

“It’s a lot of fun, and I think it’s a really good idea,” said Albert, 18. “It’s great that we can help out other kids who can’t have a real Christmas.”

Johnson said she is pleased with the way everything has gone this year.

“We’re lucky we have such a great and generous community,” she said. “It is nice to see so many who are willing to help out when the need is so high.”

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