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'Our biggest year ever' - Coworkers collect presents in friend's memory

The volunteers filled a box truck with gifts, just like they've been doing for 18 years, but this time meant even more.

TAYLOR, Pa. — It may look like a FedEx truck, but it's more like a sleigh. Cigna employees loaded dozens of gifts onto the truck parked outside First Congregational Church in Taylor. The presents are wrapped and ready for kids in Lackawanna County Youth and Family Services.

"This is the 18th year that Cigna has participated in the Lackawanna County children angel adoption, and this is our biggest year ever," said Catherine Leonard-Nixon, a provider relations manager at Cigna.

This year, Cigna employees are putting gifts under the tree for 129 children. The increase was all made possible by someone special.

"Our friend Billy passed away last October and was always a big supporter of this effort every year," said Nicole Zdaniewicz. "This year, we wanted to honor his memory."

Friends and family raised more than $5,000 in a fundraiser a few months ago. Fifty kids were sponsored in Billy Scherer's name.

"His death impacted so many people, so we knew we had to keep this tradition going," said Kori Leoszewski.

"We did it for Billy," Leonard-Nixon added.

With more gifts than ever before, the team needed a place to keep them.

Cigna's offices in Scranton closed during the pandemic, but the First Congregational Church stepped in to house all the gifts. 

The program made an impact in the life of its pastor.

"The pastor of the church here is a foster parent, and she took in so many foster children," Leoszewski said. "She said it was this program exactly that helped her throughout all those years of Christmas. So she said everybody is so appreciative of it and thankful for it."

The truck was stuffed full, and the gifts were delivered to the county's collection site on their way into the arms of some deserving kids.

"129 children will have a better Christmas," Leonard-Nixon said.

Want to see more holiday stories? Check out the WNEP YouTube channel.   

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