Community takes up Madison's cause

Photo by Fran Maye Some of Santa’s “Elves that helped distribute gifts to needy children in southern Chester County Saturday in Kennett Square. Pictured in the center is Madison Johnson, the reason community members started the event.
Photo by Fran Maye Workers prepare to serve food to needy children and their families at the Kennett Senior Center Saturday. All the food was either baked and donated by community members, or donated by local restaurants.

KENNETT SQUARE — Scores of the neediest children in southern Chester County got the Christmas of a lifetime Saturday when community members, local churches and area businesses merged efforts in launching an event called “Madison’s Miracle Christmas.”

The children, who were brought to the Senior Center by their parents, were greeted by Santa’s elves, and taken for a visit with Santa and showered with gifts and Christmas stockings. Each child also received a new coat, donated by members of a Kennett area church. They got photos taken with Santa, were entertained by performers with KMS Dance Studio in Kennett Square, were read Dickens’ Christmas Story and got to eat holiday treats and food.

And it was all free.

“There are a lot of kids out there who don’t have Christmases like we do,” said Mark Mettenheimer, who helped to organize the event. “We are very fortunate in this community, so we decided to give them a Christmas they will never forget.”

The idea for the event came when Mattenheimer came across a youngster named Madison Johnson. It was Johnson’s idea to make and sell bracelets as a fund-raiser, and Johnson said she wanted to use the money to give to poor children at Christmas.


“I hope it will be the best Christmas,” she said.

So in just over three weeks, Mattenheimer enlisted the help of friends, church members and civic organizations to stage the event. He wanted to make it something special, and wanted it to be for the neediest of needy children locally.

The needy families were selected from a list culled from several local organizations, including Tick Tock Early Learning Center, LaComunidad Hispana, Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, and HIS Mission in Kennett Square, an organization that aids homeless people.

“There are a lot of needy children out there,” Mattenheimer said. “We can’t save the world, but we can start making an impact here. A lot of people in this community with big hearts and a love for children stepped up to the plate, and this is what we have. What you see is a miracle.”

The Christmas trees and decorations were donated by the Community Warehouse Project of Chester County.

“We cleaned out our warehouse,” said Sheree Richnow, president of the organizations. “This is awesome. I’m so impressed with how many people are helping.”

Hundreds of community members helped with the project, which came together in three weeks. One of them was Ross Weaver.

“Anytime you can feel better about helping needy kids and see them have a great Christmas, it’s great,” he said.

Parents and children were treated to a wide variety of food and desserts, all donated by local restaurants and residents.

“This was all made fresh and donated by the community,” she said. “I’ve got 15 trays of ziti, salad, so much food.”

The Church of the Open Door in Kennett Square was just one of the many churches who pitched in to help.

“The reason for the season is to extend God’s love,” said Deborah Tanksley-Brown, deacon. “This is about extending God’s love and compassion, and what we see is the presence of peace and joy.”

Anita O’Connor, executive director of the Kennett Senior Center, said she was happy to see so many smiling faces.

“I think this is a wonderful event that brings people together in the best possible way,” she said. And it’s generational too. A lot of children who would not be having Christmas, will now because of this event.”

Mettenheimer said the event will be held annually.

“It all started with a vision, and we took a leap of faith for the children,” he said. “I think every community wants to do something like this, but they just need somebody to spearhead the charge. These are very, very needy children. And they are having a wonderful Christmas.”

About the Author

Fran Maye

Fran Maye is an award-winning journalist and a graduate of Shippensburg University. He and his wife Marianne live in East Marlborough. He enjoys golf and is a 4.0 tennis player. Reach the author at or follow Fran on Twitter: @kennettpaper.