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Program Helps Kids Get Chanukah Gifts

Read this story in the Jewish-Herald Voice

Hundreds of families can give their children presents for Chanukah this year, thanks to an anonymous gift-giving program, run by the city’s largest Jewish youth organization.

Lonestar Region BBYO enlisted help from several Houston-area synagogues and day schools to collect thousands of newly purchased toys, clothing and gifts for its “Count Me In” program.

The donations were sorted over the past several weeks by BBYO teens and other volunteers, and then were distributed to families currently facing financial hardships.

The entire operation is conducted anonymously, utilizing a confidential numbering system that protects the identity and dignity of those on the receiving end. Such a system allows parents to give gifts to their children, not from an outside source, but from the parents, themselves.

Count Me In this year enabled parents to give gifts – at least one for each of the eight nights of Chanukah – to some 300 children, according to Gillian Richter, Lonestar Region BBYO’s program director. Each family also received a collection of Chanukah ritual items to help celebrate the holiday.

“It’s a labor of love,” said Richter, who put in countless hours the past several weeks overseeing the operation.

Besides families with children, Count Me In distributed Chanukah gifts and ritual items this year to 100 homebound seniors and adults with special needs, Richter said.

Count Me In was started in 2005 by two Beth Yeshurun Hillel high school students, Eric Berdinis and Ben Rice, who wanted every Jewish child in Houston, regardless of a family’s financial situation, to have the experience of opening gifts from their parents on Chanukah. After its founders graduated from high school and left for college, Count Me In was taken over by Lonestar Region BBYO, which now runs the nonprofit operation out of the Merfish Teen Center.

Congregations, schools and organizations that partnered with BBYO for Count Me In this year included Beth El Preschool, Beth Israel, Beth Yeshurun, Emanu El, The Emery/Weiner School and the Houston Community Service Club.

For information about Count Me In, visit countmeininc.org.

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