Teri Mitchell (right) and her team at Catholic Social Services’ Bucks County Family Service Center brightened Christmas for hundreds of area kids through an annual toy drive and breakfast with Santa, Dec. 21. (Photo by Gina Christian)

Teri Mitchell could teach Santa Claus a few things about getting ready for Christmas.

As the director of the archdiocesan Catholic Social Services’ (CSS) Bucks County Family Service Center, Mitchell has helped hundreds of area parents provide a memorable holiday for their children, thanks to an annual toy drive and Christmas brunch that she and her team coordinate.

On Dec. 21, more than 200 clients of the center received bundles of gifts over breakfast with Santa at CSS’s Fatima Catholic Outreach Center in Bensalem. The two-hour gathering included photos with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, cookie decorating, arts and crafts projects, and a reading of “Llama, Llama, Holiday Drama” by children’s author Anna Dewdney.

So how do Mitchell and her staff of elves pull off such a full morning — while preparing for last-minute holiday assistance requests – and still manage to enjoy themselves in the process?

By planning ahead, said Mitchell, and by knowing whom to ask.

“We start putting the word out in late September,” Mitchell said. “We could not do this without the help of the community.”

She and her team contact area parishes, family, friends and community members “to see who can adopt a family” for the holidays. The Marine Toys for Tots program is also “very instrumental in getting family gifts” together for the outreach.

Mitchell also invites participants to simply adopt one child, or to volunteer at the breakfast.

Families enjoyed breakfast and photos with Mr. and Mrs. Claus at Catholic Social Services’ Fatima Catholic Outreach Center, Dec. 21. (Gina Christian)

“My own personal motto is that I like to invite others to participate, and have them share their Christmas,” she said. “It builds your blessings when you do.”

The toys, which include a number of educational activities, are kept unwrapped. Parents receive rolls of wrapping paper so they can “take ownership” of the gifts, Mitchell said.

Mitchell also makes sure to have a supply of gifts on hand for Christmas emergencies.

“The last-minute calls are the ones that really get to your heart,” she said. “Maybe something happened with the family, and grandparents suddenly find themselves having to host Christmas for their grandkids. But we plan for emergencies, and we’ll be able to help them.”

Donors and volunteers – many of whom are family and friends of Mitchell’s staff — appreciate the opportunity to do more than simply “click to give” at Christmas, she added.

“This is hands on,” she said. “This is sharing, with strangers and community and neighbors.”