The spirit of Christmas is evident in Charlotte and Washington counties as people give to neighbors who are less fortunate this holiday season.
Bringing Christmas to children
Sharrie Curtis of Downeast Community Partners' Christmas Is for Kids program says that she is "overwhelmed" again this year because trying to provide gifts to those in need has not been easy this year.
"We are helping 300 youngsters in Washington and Hancock counties," says Curtis, whose employer had been called the Washington Hancock Community Agency until a recent merger. "They range from age four months to 18, and in one case we have a family of six to buy for. And when people are shopping, they don't think of the older kids as much."
Requests have come in from all over Hancock and Washington counties including Danforth, Milbridge, Whiting and Whitneyville. Donors this year include the fire department, Masons and city hall in Ellsworth, as well as several schools, "and there is still money coming in."
"I want to give a big thank you to the people who shopped, packed and delivered this year," emphasizes Curtis.
Community Christmas Tree shines
"It is going really good. Really good," says organizer Debra Eckart of the Community Christmas Giving Tree program in Machias. The program is now in its 17th year and is designed to assist those who live in the area from Jonesport to Machias.
"We have over 500 gifts. Four hundred are for children through age 18, and 100 are for the disabled and people in nursing homes and veterans homes," she reports.
"There is a wonderful spirit of volunteerism here," stresses Eckart, who took over from Kathy Land as program head. "Kathy did an exceptional job and enjoyed it, and so do I."
"This is the fourth year that I've been involved and, after I retired, I thought it would be a wonderful project."
"We have been taking a real team approach this year," she adds. "We have a core of 20 people coming to the monthly meetings, and we are dividing up responsibilities so there's a real ownership of the program by the volunteers."
"Fifteen of our volunteers are new, and half of them recently moved to the area," points out Eckart. "I think they were replacing whatever project they were volunteering for at home."
"A number of elves have already been shopping, and we just need a donation of winter hats and boots before the December 15 deadline," she says. "We do pretty well fulfilling wish lists."
Hampers stuffed with goodies
The Deer Island Safety Net food bank volunteers were planning to deliver between 12 to 15 food hampers to needy families, reports Joyce Stuart. "We will be packing next Wednesday [December 20]," she says. Recipients get vegetables, gravy, cranberry sauce and turkey for their Christmas dinner.
"Everyone very much appreciates all of the help we get, which includes donations and helping to deliver the hampers," stresses Stuart.
Island families receive aid
Marilyn Cary of Action Ministries expects between 65 and 70 food hampers will have been delivered on Grand Manan on December 20. "It will contain a turkey, vegetables and other things including juice and candy, as well as a week's worth of groceries," she reports. "We usually have between 20 to 30 people delivering them."
"We always have a lot of donations from locals to pay for everything, and we thank them for their generosity," says Cary.
"Island Home Hardware had a Christmas wish tree again this year, and all 50 tags were for children age five years and up who wanted toys," she adds. "I know that every tag was taken, and people also gave mittens."
Calais Lions Club helps families
The Calais Lions Club has been sponsoring the Santa's Helper program for over four decades, and this year member John Mitchell reports the civic organization will be giving out "up to 200 books of coupons."
"The number of applicants was actually down this year," he points out. "We are losing population."
Each child ages one to 14 in a family receives a $50 coupon that is used to purchase clothing or toys. The donation limit per family is $200. "I think we only had one family that had four persons in it," reports Mitchell.
"We will also be distributing coupons for $25 turkey dinners to 100 families," he adds. "We used to spend a lot of time purchasing and delivering the dinners, but it's a lot easier to deliver coupons."
One family this year lives in Pembroke and another in Robbinston, but the bulk of the deliveries will be in the Calais/Baileyville area. "We have to limit the distance or we would get burned out," explains Mitchell.
"Although the number of businesses in Calais has shrunk, they are still very generous," he adds. "Our annual two-hour radio show was helpful again, and there was a benefit for us at the St. Croix Club."
Silent Santa brightens season
The longtime Silent Santa program in Eastport has been completed for the year, and Kathy Lawrence, who co-organized the charity again with Chris Vizcarrondo, says, "Everything went quite well."
"A lot of the tags were for clothes like warm boots and long drawers, more than toys," she points out. "People know that this is not an entitlement program and is for helping the less fortunate."
Making Christmas merry
The Let's All Have A Merrier Christmas program, which is now in its 33rd year, is going "full tilt" says organizer Rhonda French. "We will be assisting over 600 needy Washington County children. The need is greater every year."
"I tried to set a cut-off date for November 30 because we get fewer volunteers able to help as we get closer to Christmas."
"We've done a huge amount of shopping this December, and we strive to buy for the younger children, but if the application is for 12, 14 or 16 year olds, we don't say no."
"The first year I started this it was just for Jonesport-Beals because that's where I live, and I gave out 12 gifts," recalls French, who was honored with the 2 Those Who Care Award this year by Channel 2 in Bangor. "It's not a one-person thing. I'm just blown away by the community in Washington County. Everyone helps by pulling together, and that's an overwhelming great feeling for me."
Back in the 1980s, when she was teaching at the University of Maine at Machias and the Washington County Community College in Calais, "word got out about what I was doing and it grew. This year, there will be between 75 to 100 people volunteering to go shopping, pack or deliver gifts."
"This year we had a woman in Addison who had a new set of bunk beds that had only been slept in twice, and she could have put them on Craigslist but asked me, 'Do you know anyone who needs them?'
When we started getting the word out, one thing led to another, and the very next day [Baileyville Police Chief] Bob Fitzsimmons said that it had come to his attention that there were two girls who needed a bed. Bob came the next day to pick up the beds, and the lady who donated it had also bought new bedding for it."
"I love how the community pulls together for things like this, and so much good happens in Washington County," stresses French. "And it is very touching to me that people who were helped when they were down know that they can pay it forward."