This holiday season, despite the poor economy, the spirit of Christmas is evident in Charlotte County and Washington County as people give to neighbors who are less fortunate. However, the numbers of the needy have grown during 2012.
Presents appear under community Christmas tree
This is the 11th year for the Community Christmas Giving Tree program in Machias and the first without founder Helen Vose, who passed away in November. In her honor the 40 volunteers have dubbed themselves "Helen's elves" this Christmas season as they try to assist families from Jonesport to Machiasport.
"We're getting more efficient," reports organizer Kathy Land. "And my gut feeling is that we'll be helping about 700 people, the same number as last year."
"We're getting more requests for clothing, and that tells you how hard it is for people in this economy," she says. "We're getting requests for underwear, socks and boots."
Maine Seacoast Mission provides about half of the money they need to purchase gifts, and the rest comes from local businesses and community members. "We have people who knit hats and mittens for us every year, and one lady just donated 15 lap robes. We visit nursing homes, and those go quickly."
Names of needy families and individuals are provided by the Machias Food Pantry, the Department of Health and Human Services, churches and even school counsellors "when a family is reluctant to ask for help," says Land. "We make sure that the names stay as confidential as possible."
Each youngster benefiting from the Christmas tree program will receive a book this year, but next year the volunteers are planning to focus on the elderly.
Empty Stocking Fund fills Grand Manan cupboards
Thanks to the Empty Stocking Fund, volunteers on Grand Manan were able to deliver 75 food and gift boxes to needy families this year, which is an increase of 15 from last Christmas.
"They're getting everything they want for a turkey dinner," says coordinator Marilyn Cary of the island's ministerial organization. "We have gifts for the kids. People donate mittens and hats, too."
"People always call last minute to say, 'So-and-so really needs a box,' so we add them on to the list," she adds. "We really enjoy what we're doing."
Christmas hampers supply Deer Island families
Ten needy households received Christmas hampers this year on Deer Island. They were packed by the members of the Deer Island Safety Net Committee and volunteers, and recipients pick them up.
"We don't have a lot of hampers, because people who work for Cooke or Paturel don't need them," says Joyce Stuart of the committee.
In addition to turkeys, the hampers contain vegetables, breads, margarine, pies and doughnuts, as well as some Ganong chocolate and candy. Appropriate gifts for young and old are packed with the food. "We also put in more [food] supplies this year because the food pantry won't be open until January 9."
Applicants abound for Calais Lions Club giving
The Lions Club of Calais has sponsored a Christmas giving program for over 40 years, but this year applications are up and donations are down, says longtime member John Mitchell.
"We've raised $11,000 and there are still pledges to come in, so it will be about $13,000 to spend, but we've had about 240 applicants and can help 124 families this year," he reports.
Needy families were traditionally supplied with $50 gift certificates to Bell's IGA and Paradis Shop 'n Save, but that amount had to reduced to $40. Children ages one to 14 were eligible for $5 coupons that came 10 to a package, but this year the coupons had to be cut back to eight a package.
"The merchants know it's for toys or clothing, and there's very little fraud," says Mitchell of the program. "It's very rewarding for us."
Silent Santa program overwhelmed by support
Gifts courtesy of the Silent Santa program in the Eastport area were still being purchased and delivered after the cut-off date this year, says organizer Chris Vizcarrondo. "There were some last-minute tags," she reports. "People were unaware of the need."
"It's heartbreaking what we see," she says of the recipients. "They need to spend their money on oil and food, and Christmas comes last. We're all aware of how hard that is for children."
"Parents this year are just asking for a hat, mittens and boots, not Nintendos or Xboxes or iPads, but every child needs a toy," she adds. "I'll go to a house, and it's a tearjerker. They're very grateful, hugging me and crying, and saying, 'This is his Christmas -- what you're bringing him.'"
"I'm overwhelmed with all of the support from the Downeast community," she adds, crediting the residents of Eastport, Pleasant Point, Edmunds, Pembroke, Charlotte, Perry and Robbinston with pulling together. "People think they're not helping if they give me $10, but they really are."
Vizcarrondo was in the Eastport Elementary School one day and mentioned that there were still Silent Santa gifts that needed to be purchased, and someone there volunteered for the job. "She asked me, 'What do you need?' When I told her, she said, 'Don't worry. I'll buy them.'"
When a baker in Edmunds heard about a little boy who was going to be disappointed because there would be no cookies at his house on Christmas Eve, she made several kinds of cookies C enough to give to 20 families.
Among her helpers this year were daughter Ameena, Dillon Townsend and Kathy Lawrence, and financial assistance was provided by Federal Marine Terminals and John Foster. "I'm really impressed with the support we've gotten," says Vizcarrondo.
Season of giving touches hearts
The Christmas Is for Kids and More program, run by the Washington-Hancock Community Agency (WHCA), is once again the recipient of wide community support, but the number of needy children is up this year.
"We don't have a final tally, but we had 500 requests before December, and people are struggling this year with high fuel prices and are just asking for coats, boots, hats and mittens," reports Susan Farley of WHCA. "It breaks our hearts, and we want to put in a toy for them."
Businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals donated the gifts, which WHCA collects and distributes from Danforth to Stonington. Nine-year-old Brianna Jack of Baileyville loves to read and raised enough money so that all of the child recipients in Washington County will get a book from the program. "I got goose bumps knowing that she wanted to share her love of reading," says Farley. "It's so wonderful that she was thinking of other kids who are not as fortunate as her."
"These are truly desperate people this year. The economy is slow, and we know the numbers going to the food pantry are going up dramatically."