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Law Firms, Ampersand Pantry Project Are Santa’s Helpers for Over 80 Families

Gabriela Llamas of the Ampersand Pantry Project and Aimee McKinney of Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig distribute donated gifts to families.

Santa Claus is getting some help from his toy shop in Loudoun County this holiday season.

The law firms Burnett Williams and Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig partnered with the Ampersand Pantry Project to collect toys and gifts for 82 families in need, and distributed the items today.

Families associated with the Ampersand Pantry Project filled out forms including their children’s ages, favorite colors, and the items on their wish lists. Donors acted as personal shoppers, buying the items on their adopted families’ lists.

“We leave them unwrapped so the parents can have dignity, so they can wrap their own presents and give them to their children as if they were their own,” Aimee McKinney of Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig said.

Volunteers amassed and sorted 1,600 items in an empty retail store in the Leesburg Village shopping center, which has been functioning as the toy factory all week.

“We have one single mom who texted me today, who said this was her family’s second Christmas in the United States and because of you guys it is going to be 100 times better than it was last time,” Gabriela Llamas, an Ampersand Pantry Project volunteer and an organizer of the event, said.

Llamas said that the Ampersand Pantry Project has helped provided free meals to many of the families throughout the pandemic.

McKinney said that, though Loudoun is among the wealthiest counties in the nation, there is still substantial need. She recalled delivering Thanksgiving meals with her husband last year, going to a Loudoun neighborhood she never noticed before.

“You walk in to this house, and you see three beds in the living room,” she said.

She said that families receiving gifts this year were in need for a variety of reasons. Some endured dire financial times because of the pandemic, while others were working through personal crises alongside the Health Department.

“It is really about the businesses and the individual donors coming together,” Llamas said.

It’s a project weeks in the making—donors began dropping off gifts before Thanksgiving.

“People would come on the donation days and were literally just so happy to be doing this. It truly is a community effort,” McKinney said.

Keane Enterprises, the company that donated the retail space for the toy factory, sponsored 38 children.

Llamas added that, thanks to more last-minute donations, the volunteers were able to provide additional families with gift cards to do their own holiday shopping before Christmas.