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story.lead_photo.caption Ambra McPeters, administrative director for the City of Hope Outreach, left, and Kas Troncoso, small-market director, decorate for the holidays. CoHO will host a socially distanced Christmas event Saturday in Conway.

— The City of Hope Outreach, or CoHO, will host a socially distanced Christmas event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the nonprofit’s office in Conway at 608 E. Robins St.

“The Christmas Store is an annual event for CoHO,” said Kas Troncoso, the small-market director for CoHO. “We are dedicated to offering assistance that ensures dignity.”

Troncoso said that usually, the organization sets up toys up like in a store, and parents have an opportunity to select what the child receives. However, there are usually 30 to 40 people in the building, so adjustments had to be made to provide social distancing while still offering a connection to the community.

The event will feature Santa, decorations, music and refreshments. Troncoso said that while children will not be allowed to sit on Santa’s lap, they will have the opportunity to tell Santa what they want for Christmas, take a picture and receive a gift picked especially for them.

“We do plan to have a divider between Santa and the kids, as well as other stations providing stockings and refreshments to help disburse people and create distancing,” Troncoso said. “Each station will have markers to maintain distancing in the line.”

She said Ambra McPeters, administrative director for CoHO, will oversee the event and make sure social distancing is taking place.

“CoHO is excited for the opportunity to continue to serve our community through CoHO Christmas,” said Phillip Fletcher, executive director for CoHO. “Since 2009, we have hosted the CoHO Christmas Store to provide the opportunity for parents to have direct involvement in the selection and wrapping of toys and clothing for their kids.

“CoHO firmly believes in affirming the dignity and worth of everyday people, and CoHO Christmas is one type of experience cultivated by our nonprofit to do just that during the holiday season.”

Troncoso has been a part of CoHO for almost a year, starting as an administrative assistant in January. She said she wanted to get involved because she wanted to help people and let them know they are not alone.

“I like to give someone a sense of hope in their time of need,” she said.

Troncoso said that to help maintain social distancing and safety, time slots for each child were created. However, the deadline for registration was Dec. 4. Teenagers ages 13 to 18 will receive a stocking.

“Due to the distancing, we will not be able to serve as many families this year and will have to limit the communities we serve,” she said. “We are creating a backup list in case there are any extra presents or people who don’t show up.”

She said the biggest challenge for this year’s event has been the changes that were made as a result of COVID-19.

“We can’t do the store we normally do that provides families with choice, but we are able to provide some relief to families during this holiday season.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a situation in which our organization has had to adapt and innovate to address the particular needs of families during this difficult period,” Fletcher said. “This year, we developed an appointment schedule for families to reduce the number of people in the building at one time.

“Just as important, when parents applied to participate, we asked what exactly their children would desire as gifts so the parent would still have the opportunity to enjoy choice in their gift selection.”

Troncoso said that toys, stockings, candy, stocking stuffers and monetary donations are needed. These items can be dropped off at the office, which is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Those who want to make donations can also call (501) 205-1614 or email cohoadmdirector@gmail.com.

“I want to personally thank all who have and will donate toward this year’s CoHO Christmas,” Fletcher said. “We look forward to having another great year of celebrating hope as we navigate a very difficult time in our city, state and nation.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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