A Lesson in Holiday Charitable Giving Gone Amiss

A RESTAURANT that attempted to organize a Christmas dinner for needy people was faced with a shortage - of needy people.

"I sat down this morning and cried," says Carol Saunders, a volunteer who tried to round up poor families to enjoy the program planned at the Red Robin Grill in Langhorne, Pa.

The dinner's organizers were left with food for 200 and unopened gifts of toys for children.

"I got it all backward," says assistant kitchen manager Mike Lerro. "I figured getting the big corporations to give me the food would be the hard part, not finding people to eat it."

The experience of those at the Red Robin Grill, however, is the exception rather than the rule. Most charitable organizations say that the need for their services continues to increase.

Last fall, restaurant employees wanted to help the poor and decided to feed local orphans on Christmas Day in the restaurant's relaxed surroundings and give out toys.

Mr. Lerro started looking for orphans - without any luck. There are no orphanages in Bucks County, the prosperous county near Philadelphia where Langhorne is located. County officials told Lerro that most orphans celebrate Christmas with their foster families.

Meanwhile, food came pouring in. A dairy donated 250 cartons of milk. An ice-cream maker sent 21 gallons of its product. A bakery sent 250 dinner rolls.

By mid-December, Lerro turned to Ms. Saunders, who runs Aiding Our Neighbors, a food-delivery service for the needy. She found that many families had planned to eat Christmas dinner at the local Salvation Army, and others said they depend on public transportation and had no way to get to the restaurant.

Saunders, who thought she could find 70 needy people to come to the diner admitted Sunday night that she found only 25. The dinner of ham, rice, salad, and rolls was canceled.

She says she plans to deliver some gifts to families in need, and local hospitals have agreed to accept some toys. The rest of the food is being given to local agencies.

Bowed but not broken, Lerro and Saunders say that next year, they plan to get their dinner invitations out earlier.

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