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.
Community Christmas Tree provides holiday cheer
This is the 11th year for the Community Christmas Tree program in Machias, and the project is in memory of Helen Vose, who started it back in 2003, and the late Linda Preston, who had also spent a lot of time making sure needy families in the area had Christmas gifts. Organizer Kathy Land says the outpouring of gifts and money was so great this season that the usual donation from Maine Seacoast Mission was unnecessary.
"We're far from being out on our own, but things are going well. We've had tremendous community support," she says. "We've had tons of donations which has been heartwarming."
The program is designed to help children aged newborn through 18, as well as special needs adults and the elderly who live in the area from Jonesport to Machiasport.
"This year we were on par with last year and helped 575 people," says Land. "One hundred and thirty-five of them were special needs or elderly."
"For some reason, we had more single fathers than single mothers this year," she adds.
Of the 40 volunteers who worked to make the Community Christmas Tree program, 12 of them spent all year organizing it, points out Land. "And we have knitters who spend all year making lap robes and other items. We supply the yarn so we look at yard sales in the summer for good deals on the yarn."
The program received blankets for children from Project Linus, $1,000 from the Jobs for Maine's Graduates program at Washington Academy, as well as a donation from the TOPS Club weight loss support group and books given in memory of former Rose M. Gaffney Elementary School teacher Linda Preston of Roque Bluffs, who passed away in March.
"People who have benefited from us give back, being a volunteer themselves and helping someone else out," adds Land.
Empty Stocking Fund helps fill Grand Manan cupboards
Thanks to the Empty Stocking Fund, volunteers on Grand Manan were able to deliver food hampers to 69 families this year. This is a slight decrease of six from last year.
"They all got enough food for a turkey dinner," says Marylyn Cary, coordinator of the island's ministerial organization. "We also helped out the kids with boots, and families got gift certificates for emergency purposes."
"We've gotten such a good response from the community that right now our food pantry is stocked well," she adds. "We even have some extra turkeys on hand."
Calais Lions Club aids families
The Lions Club of Calais has sponsored a Christmas giving program for at least four decades and was able to help 100 families in 2013, although financial assistance was down this year, reports longtime member John Mitchell. "Usually we get $12,000 to $13,000 in donations to spend, but we only got $9,000 or $10,000," he says. "There are fewer businesses to help out."
"We gave out $40 worth of coupons to each child but had to cut back from four children per family to three, so the most each family got was $120," adds Mitchell. "We give the coupons to parents who have children from age one to 14 and let them do the shopping because they know better than the Lions do as to what their children want."
Silent Santa program puts gifts under the tree
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 a few last-minute names."
"We did really well," she says of the program. "The community really helped out. A lot more people pitched in, like the Coast Guard wives, Rena Craig and Dan Butler. That helped get a lot of little things done. And Kathy Lawrence really puts in a lot of time."
Vizcarrondo received a lot of compliments for her work on the Silent Santa program, but the one that touched her heart was from a woman who told her how much she appreciated what the Silent Santa program accomplished so that kids could receive gifts on Christmas. "She didn't want any help from us, even though this is a family of six with only the father working. I was struck by her humbleness."
Vizcarrondo is already looking ahead to next year's Silent Santa and how to improve the program. "I just need more sorters and shoppers. That would help a lot."
GEECA packs Christmas baskets
Approximately 250 Christmas dinner baskets were packed at the Labor of Love Food Pantry and Nutrition Center in Eastport for pick-up or delivery. That number includes those who depend on the food pantry on a regular basis as well as people who seldom, or have never, received food assistance.
" There's always a problem of knowing where they are," says Colin Windhorst, president of the Greater Eastport Ecumenical Churches Association (GEECA), which runs the Labor of Love Food Pantry. "But we have wonderful secretaries who have been checking addresses. Dickie Adams in Perry even went knocking on doors, looking for people who didn't have telephones."
Christmas dinner baskets from Labor of Love Food Pantry were received by households in the food pantry's service area, which includes Eastport, Dennysville, Edmunds, Perry, Charlotte, Pembroke, Robbinston and Meddybemps.