Most employees of the Occupational Training Center in Mount Holly had never met Faith Tyler, a 6-year-old suffering from kidney failure, when they set out to save Christmas for her and her family.

But they liked and respected her father, Joe, an assistant project manager at the center.

His family was struggling to pay the bills. Faith's illness had forced him to take a leave of absence to be with her at the hospital three months earlier.

The outlook for a happy Christmas seemed distant, not just for Faith and her two young siblings, but also for the two children from Tyler's previous marriage.

They were living with their mother, who let Tyler suspend child-support payments so he could spend his days with Faith at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"I was there day and night with her," Tyler, 36, said.

Colleagues responded overwhelmingly when operations manager Martha Tortorello issued a call for help last month at a gathering in the cafeteria: Would each departments be interested in "adopting" one of the five children and buying the presents on their Christmas lists?

"We want Faith," Elisha Sumpter said right away, signing up the finance department as the girl's sponsor.

"Joe is just a great guy. He's someone you don't mind doing for, because he really appreciates it," said accounts-receivable manager Flora Maxwell.

Faith was born with polycystic kidney disease, and Joe Tyler donated a kidney to her in 2003. But a recent infection of

E. coli

destroyed that kidney, and at one point doctors said Faith wouldn't survive, according to her mother, Denise Warren.

The mission to bring cheer to Faith and her family struck a chord with Sumpter, an accounts-payable manager from Pemberton who felt down about the holiday season after returning from her own leave of absence caused by health problems.

Checking off items on Faith's Christmas list became a project for Sumpter and her coworkers, as they bought gifts, sent e-mail updates, and showed off the toys. They wrapped the presents at work and made bows.

"It lifted my spirits. . . . Faith gave me a lot of joy," Sumpter said.

For Becky Steele in the human resources department, it offered the chance to pass along a tradition from her grandparents: cracking walnuts in two, stuffing folded money inside, and gluing the halves back together.

"I put them in Santa bags, and said they were special and needed to be cracked open," said Steele, a payroll administrator from Trenton.

Money flowed into a fund set up for Tyler at a local bank. Co-workers made food for the family.

And on the morning of Christmas Eve, four of the dozens of contributors went to the Tyler home in the Browns Mills section of Pemberton Township to surprise the children with enormous bags of presents, before making a second stop to give more to Tyler's ex-wife and her family.

"We just want you to know everybody's been praying, and we don't really know Faith, but we all love her," administrative assistant Donna Vargo told Warren.

Warren replied: "Thank you, because I don't know if we could have had a Christmas." The women hugged.

But a hitch prevented Faith and Tyler from being at the house: Faith, having returned from the hospital on Tuesday, woke up the next morning with a fever. Her father took her to the hospital as a precaution.

Still, Caitlin, 10, and Matthew, 7, were there to begin ripping open some of the gifts, leaving others under the ceiling-high Christmas tree.

In the end, the Tylers enjoyed a small miracle: Faith's father got to bring her home the night of Christmas Eve.

"She knew Daddy's job had bought them, and she said, 'All this for me?' . . . She says this was the best Christmas ever, except it didn't snow," Warren said.

Tyler returns to the Occupational Training Center today, though he will not be able to work full time because he will have to take Faith a few times a week to the hospital for dialysis. He plans to take his daughter to work one day to meet and thank his colleagues.

"I'm really happy they did that for us," he said.

Contact staff writer Maya Rao at 856-779-3220 or mrao@phillynews.com

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