Gift giveaway effort to aid students in region a ‘heart-warming experience’

Hundreds of less fortunate children in southwest Ohio have received Christmas presents through donations, and the efforts of Kim Bilbrey and others.

Working with area school districts and sponsors, the Stebbins High School grad and Carlisle resident has for more than a decade spearheaded a holiday gift giveaway she said has benefitted youngsters in Dayton, Kettering, Miamisburg, Middletown, Lebanon and several points in between.

This effort has involved businesses, friends and volunteers from Butler, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble and Warren counties, Bibrey said.

This year, Mad River schools in Riverside was the main recipient and she estimated more than 2,400 gifts — the most yet — were distributed to 164 kids. In Lebanon last year, there were 174 recipients, Bilbrey said.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

“We would like to help, typically, grandparents raising kids, siblings raising kids (whose parents) are either incarcerated or deceased,” said Bilbrey, who runs the program with her husband Tim.

“Single parents that just can’t make ends meet,” she added. “People that are sick or terminally ill. We are looking for those kind of specific categories.”

Students are selected by the schools and district coordinators or social workers reach out to the families, Bilbrey said. Her group is given the children’s first names, their clothing sizes along with a list of needs and wants. Each recipient is given between 10 and 20 presents, she said.

Recruiting sponsors starts in early October and they buy the gifts, she said. More than 140 sponsors, businesses and volunteers took part this year and deliveries were made last week, according to Bilbrey.

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Nick Romani of Okeana in western Butler County has been taking part for more than five years.

“It’s just a very enjoyable experience. You have people who are very emotional,” he said. “Their kids have never had Christmas or (guardians) don’t know where they’re going to get any money to buy gifts. (They’re) lucky to have food on the table.”

The gift-giving program sends a strong message to students, according to Mad River Superintendent Chad Wyen.

“For the past several years, our school district has tried to instill the importance of kindness. It warms my heart to see students, families, community members, and especially our alumni giving to those in need,” he said in an email.

“By celebrating each other — not just the presents that we get — we are teaching students that the true spirit of the holiday comes from giving back, giving thanks, and lending a helping hand to those in need,” Wyen added.

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Lebanon City Schools resource coordinator Lynn Payne said the gifts last year helped make a difficult time easier.

“COVID had a huge impact on so many people and having this additional resource to help support our students enabled us to reach more families affected by the pandemic,” she said in an email.

“The generosity and hard work by Kim and her donors (were) amazing and our families felt encouraged and supported during the holiday season,” Payne added.

This year, sponsors and volunteers included businesses and organizations from Bellbrook, Centerville, Englewood, Franklin, Huber Heights, Kettering, Lebanon, Miamisburg and Piqua. The wrapped gifts were housed at a donated space in Franklin until last week.

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Romani, who works at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said he got involved after meeting Bilbrey through a continuing education course.

His employer sponsors three families and provides vehicles for the gift deliveries. Romani organized two four-person teams to make deliveries, one of his favorite duties.

“Just the raw emotion that you get,” he said. “It’s my favorite time of the year and I’m fortunate that I have two boys of my own. And I couldn’t imagine them never having gifts. It’s a good way to give back when I’m able to.

“It’s a heart-felt, heart-warming experience. It’s like nothing else,” Romani added. “It’s just something that I have enjoyed. And everybody who is brought on the delivery team, they ask to do it again the following year. It’s the whole experience.”

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Bilbrey, who operates Bilbrey Marketing and Advertising Inc., said the concept evolved from an effort she started about 15 years ago to help neighbors. She has worked with school districts for about 12 years.

“It’s very gratifying to help people you know who can do nothing in return. When we do this, I hear the stories of these people and what they’re going through,” she said.

“And it’s an honor and a blessing to help people that are crying and have no hope,” Bilbrey added. “And to give them hope and that selfless love” and let them know “that people still do care in this world.”

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