VALPARAISO | Northwest Indiana attorney Kenneth J. Allen and his wife, Nina, have played Santa for several years by buying hundreds of Christmas gifts for needy children.

But this year, they are trying something different -- giving away $50 gift cards for children who will spend this Christmas in a homeless shelter or domestic violence shelter in Lake and Porter counties.

Allen said the change will accomplish the goal of making sure children in need have presents, but also will give parents a good feeling by letting them pick out gifts they know their children will like.

"This way parents in shelter can play Santa Claus for their own children," Allen said.

"Hopefully, this will strengthen the bonds between parents and children and bring happiness to these families in need this Christmas."

Allen said there are more than 150 children housed in shelters now, and he said an additional 100 could land in shelters by the end of the year. The Allens gave $12,500 -- enough for 250 children -- to the United Way for distribution to children in its partner shelters.

Allen said he and his wife will make an additional contribution if additional children are in need. If the $12,500 contribution proves to be too large, the shelters can keep the money for birthday presents, Allen said.

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