With an urgent tone in her voice, the organizer behind the 73rd annual installment of a Meadville tradition wasted no time with chitchat Tuesday afternoon.
“Jimmy Moore needs help,” Nancy Mangilo Bittner said. “That’s what the headline should be.”
The Jimmy Moore Christmas Party takes place at 11 a.m. Dec. 14 at St. Brigid Roman Catholic Church’s Social Hall at 383 Arch St.
But the latest edition of the event held each year since 1946 won’t be much of a party without some last-minute fundraising, according to Mangilo Bittner.
“We need money,” she said. “We really do.”
At this stage last year, Mangilo Bittner continued, approximately $9,000 had been raised for the Jimmy Moore Christmas Party with about 200 children signed up to receive the toys, gloves, socks and other gifts that have traditionally been handed out at the event.
This year, a similar number of kids have been signed up for the event, according to Mangilo Bittner, but the fundraising is lagging behind. She had hoped to spend the weekend buying toys but only has about $1,000 so far.
“Everything else is handled,” Mangilo Bittner said. “We just need to get some money so I know how much money we have to spend per child.”
Despite the 2016 shuttering of the Sertoma Club, which for decades had organized the Christmas event for underprivileged Meadville area youngsters, the Jimmy Moore Christmas Party has continued with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodge 219 taking the reins in 2016. When Elks members announced that due to declining membership numbers they would not be able to host the party in 2017, community members rallied to make sure the tradition continued.
Mangilo Bittner led the community charge again last year, ultimately raising about $12,000 and welcoming nearly 260 children to the luncheon with Santa at the St. Brigid social hall.
Meadville native Amy Bizjak, who attended the party in the 1970s and has worked at the event as a volunteer in recent years, understands the spirit of “giving back” that drove people to make sure the Jimmy Moore tradition continued.
“I actually used to be a Jimmy Moore child, so I know the importance of this gathering,” Bizjak said. “A lot of children in our community wouldn’t have a Christmas with presents and a celebration without having this function.”
Recalling Jimmy Moore parties from when she was as young as 3 or 4 years old, Bizjak was living proof of the event’s lasting impact. Not only did she receive toys at the party, she said, she even got to take the stage during dance performances that were part of the event at the time. She remembered the hats and gloves that were distributed as well, even the apples and oranges that were given to kids — and the toys, of course.
“One year I got this Crayola carousel,” Bizjak said, “and then to get up there on stage — it was pretty interesting to have that dual role.”
The goal, according to Mangilo Bittner, is to once again lay the foundation for similar memories among today’s youngsters. But to do so, she hopes to rally additional fundraising over the next few days so she can purchase toys for the appropriate age groups before the toy shelves in regional stores have been picked bare.
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.