By Andy Prutsok

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 19, 2004

More than 160 children will have a merrier Christmas thanks to Sara Lee employees and their annual Angel Tree project.

On Friday morning, employees were helping representatives from Suffolk Social Services and Hope Haven load up presents by the cartful to be distributed to the needy children served by those agencies.

&uot;This is wonderful,&uot; said Vivian King, a foster care specialist with social services, when she laid eyes on the massive tree in the lobby of Sara Lee’s Wilroy Industrial Park office. &uot;When kids think about Christmas, they think about gifts. If it weren’t for groups like Sara Lee and area churches, a lot of children wouldn’t have Christmas.

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The effort was led by Sara Lee’s Community Action Committee, a group of nearly a dozen representatives of workers and management, according to Lynn Boykins, who headed up the committee and was on hand Friday to help King collect her toys.

Plant Manager Buddy McGuire said employees have been undertaking the annual effort to help local agencies for at least the past five years.

McGuire explained that their Angel Tree project is different than most programs in that children receive exactly what they want for Christmas, &uot;not what we might think they want.&uot;

Beverly Nedab, human resources manager, said Sara Lee asks the agencies to collect the names of children and their wish lists for Christmas. Each name and accompanying list is put on a paper angel that is hung on the company’s tree. Employees and groups of employees take an angel and buy everything on the list, as well as wrap it.

&uot;A lot of families are in these programs trying to improve their situation, but still can’t afford to give their children what they want for Christmas,&uot; Nedab said. &uot;We provide those things for the families so they can still have Christmas for their kids.&uot;

Sara Lee also involves local schools in the effort. This year, the angels were colored by students from Mack Benn Elementary and Forest Glen Middle School.