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Giving Season

ONU student organizations join together to help local families.

Imagine how it would feel to grant a child’s Christmas wish.

First, you need remember when you were little, when opening that one special present on Christmas morning was literally the most important thing in your world. It was the reason you ate your vegetables, were nice to your brothers and sisters, and kept your room extra clean. And if you were one of the lucky ones, at least once during your childhood, it was all worth it.

Junior nursing major Christopher Mendoza
enjoys himself at the Fill the Fireplace
holiday celebration.

This year, Ohio Northern University students will know exactly how it feels to grant wishes, as they will do so for 22 local children participating in the annual Fill the Fireplace program.

Now in its sixth year, Fill the Fireplace matches ONU student organizations with Ada, Ohio, families in need of a little help this year. Each group “adopts” a family and raises money internally to purchase gifts and other items needed by the family. Before officially culminating on Christmas morning, the program brings together families and students at an on-campus holiday celebration, where they meet for the first time.

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, in the McIntosh Center ballroom, representatives from the eight participating student groups and the eight families had fun making Christmas ornaments and other holiday crafts, icing Christmas cookies, and even visiting with Santa—who made a special trip to Ada just for the occasion.

“It was unbelievably heart-warming and gratifying to see the children’s smiles as they unwrapped presents,” says Mary Frances Meier, a fourth-year pharmacy major from Wilmington, Del., and organizer of Fill the Fireplace.

In the end, happy children went home with a special early Christmas present, and, hopefully, their parents went home with a little less to worry about this year.

To date, the Fill the Fireplace program has served 83 local children and 41 families. ONU’s Panhellenic Council sponsors the program, and Jen Lambdin, director of student involvement and Panhellenic Council advisor, has seen it grow from its humble beginnings.

Pharmacy major Jessica Larkey of Kappa
Alpha Theta waits to meet her family.

“When Fireplace started in 2006, it literally was one student that said, ‘I think we need to do this,’” she says. “And so she started working with the Chapel, and it has grown to where we are today.”

What Fireplace is today is a unique service program that gives students a chance to directly help neighbors in need, while seeing firsthand the hardships that exist mere blocks from campus.

“This event was truly perspective-changing, and I hope in the future to not only remain involved, but also expand the event and, hopefully, sponsor more families within our community,” says Meier.

Lambdin shares the story of one student group, who in their exuberance, decided they wanted to do “something big” for their family.

“The students were thinking of all of these really fun things they could do. So we asked the mother what they wanted,” she says. “And her response was, ‘I want bath towels that don’t have holes in them.’ They have seven or eight people in their family and only a few towels between them.

“I think that was a real grounding moment for all of us.”

At its heart, Fireplace is about the kids, be they Ada youth or of the Polar Bear variety. And the spirit they embody at Christmastime is one and the same.

Megan Kunka, a fifth-year pharmacy major from Cortland, Ohio, is the outgoing Panhellenic Council President. This marks her third year as a participant and her second to meet with the families and attend the celebration event. But with all of her experience, memories of shopping for presents still brings a smile.

Fill the Fireplace children enjoyed a
special early visit from Santa.

“It is so much fun to pick out the little outfits for the children and to find all the little toys they put on their list,” she says.

Before the shopping begins, much work is done behind the scenes. ONU employees Sherry Agin and Brenda Hamlin worked with two area churches, First Presbyterian Church of Ada and Grace Gospel Church of Ada, to find families to match with eight student groups who asked to participate this year—sororities Alpha Xi Delta, Delta Zeta, Kappa Alpha Theta and Zeta Tau Alpha; the Interfraternity Council; the Order of Omega; the Student Planning Committee; and the professional pharmacy fraternity Kappa Psi. This year, the families run the gamut, from a single parent with one child, to an extended family living under one roof. It’s a reminder that there is no single “type” of family that hard times fall upon.
“I think it was really neat that it was the students who completely wanted to do this,” says Lambdin. “They are raising the money for these families. They could go buy themselves something, but instead they’re doing something for others.”

It certainly is a wonderful thing the students are doing, but to hear them say it, it’s no big deal.

“It’s not much for us, besides our time and a little bit of money. But, for them, it means so much,” says Kunka. “It’s a great thing to be a part of.”

Visit our Community Relations page to learn more about Northern's outreach efforts.