The staff at St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital, Coaldale, and its affiliates have once again made the holiday season warmer for some Panther Valley area families.

The hospital staff continued an ongoing tradition of providing Christmas presents to families who utilize the Carbon County Head Start program.

On Monday morning, Head Start workers stopped at the hospital to pick up the large piles of brightly wrapped packages that were provided by the generosity of the hospital workers.

"This is a tradition that we are very proud of here at St. Luke's Miners Hospital," said Ralph Richards, St. Luke's Miners administrative director. "We're always delighted to unite all our departments in the spirit of Christmas.

"We have 363 employees who all come together from our various offices and rehabilitation centers, and in the end, everyone gets to feel the joy of giving. Me, I'm a Santa Claus wanna-be, and it's that time of year when there's nothing better than to bring a smile to a child's face. If we can do that, we're blessed."

Billie-Jo Swartz, Head Start family service worker, said this year the gifts provided by St. Luke's Miners will be presented to 12 Head Start families throughout Coaldale, Lansford, Summit Hill and Nesquehoning.

"Five years ago, the hospital called us and asked if we had any families that needed anything for Christmas," said Swartz. "We told them we always have a need. That's when this started.

"It's not just toys, it's everything. We provide them with a list of what is needed, and they go above and beyond. Every year, it's amazing what they do here. We walk into this room, and we're overwhelmed. We give them the list, and they take it from there.

There's actually more than one gift per person to go around. "If there's a child who needs shoes, or if they want anything in particular, we put it on the list. We do the entire family. We're very grateful for what they do here."

Swartz said Head Start delivers the gifts directly to the families that requested them.

Richards added that the program is part of the hospital's outreach to the communities it serves.

"We're just made note of a need in the community," said Richards. "Our marketing department felt this is a logical extension of what we do. We are a cornerstone of the community and we want to show we serve in ways in addition to medicine."