Despite tight economy, gifts arrive for many in Canton-Potsdam area
By MAUREEN PICHÉ
Despite the rough economy, people in the greater Canton-Potsdam area are still being generous with their time and money this holiday season, according to two local agencies that provide gifts and food to those in need.Pam Yurgartis of the Potsdam Holiday Fund and Shari Wilcox of the Canton Church and Community Program say donations of food, toys and cash are still coming in, and volunteerism is high.
“I worry myself sick and then the miracle occurs every year,” Yurgartis said. “It’s just a wonderful community. It’s all donation—time, money, other items.”
The Potsdam Holiday Fund provides new toys, clothing, boots and food to families and senior citizens in need in the communities of Potsdam, Madrid, Hopkinton, Nicholville, Brasher Falls, Chase Mills, Fort Jackson, West Stockholm and Winthrop.
Yurgartis said some 300 volunteers assist with the holiday fund every year, whether they’re wrapping presents, delivering food baskets, holding a fundraising event, or collecting items from throughout the community.
“And it’s hundreds of people sending in $20, $10, even $5—whatever they can—or someone taking a tag off a tree and buying gifts for children,” she added.
“People always come through. I’ve seen this happen repeatedly,” Wilcox said. At this time of year, her program collects and gives out the toys, clothes and food baskets generated by the Canton Christmas Bureau. Each child receives four clothing items and two toys, and families and individuals get holiday food.
She noted contributions to the annual holiday project mailings have stayed the same or have gone up this year.
“I think even people who aren’t hurting economically realize the effect the economy is having, that this is a real tragedy for a lot of people,” she added.
Both said it takes the efforts of many generous people in both big and small ways to pull off the holiday giving programs.
The Hobble Gobble Prediction Run/Walk, one of the major funding sources for the Potsdam Holiday Fund, did exceptionally well this year, Yurgartis said. About $10,000 was donated.
Other “elves” such as Heather and Jody Wenzel of Julian’s Restaurant and McDuff’s Tavern hold special fundraising events, and the Merry Tuba Christmas concert asks for donations to contribute to the fund. Jane Khondker and her Jazzercise troupe also hold a special session to raise money.
Then the Potsdam Rotary Club creates and delivers the food baskets, while the Potsdam Kiwanis places the Giving Trees throughout the community and picks up the gifts. The Potsdam Big M donates the food, and the Golub Foundation, owners of Price Chopper, gives a large donation and collects gifts. Toys for Tots of Ogdensburg delivers a van-full of toys every year, too.
And of course, Yurgartis said there are all of the community members who show up in the basement of the Potsdam United Methodist Church to wrap presents.
“One year, a sorority came and they were underneath the tables wrapping,” she recalled.
Wilcox said organizations such as the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, along with college fraternities and sororities always pitch in.
“Half of all the gifts we give out come from students,” she said. “In fact, I’m expecting a truckload from St. Lawrence University later this week.”
The Salvation Army, which Wilcox is also involved with, has teamed up with Price Chopper for a toy drive.
And Wilcox said she was touched by the efforts of children Camille and Abigail Marshall of Ogdensburg, founders of PJs 4 X-mas, who donated pajamas to the program.
The Mobil Mini-Mart on Rt. 11 placed a Giving Tree inside, and set up a Salvation Army kettle this year. Wilcox said they’ve collected an amazing $200 so far.
Wilcox was also moved by the efforts of a St. Lawrence fraternity, who successfully lobbied the school to place a kettle in front of the bookstore and handle the bell ringing themselves.
“It’s great when this kind of help comes through,” she said.
Both Yurgartis and Wilcox predict they will have sufficient resources to handle the applications this year.
“We are exactly where we were last year at this time, but we do have some new names,” Yurgartis said of those signing up for assistance during the holidays. The number of families currently stands at 263, but with a few weeks left to go, she imagines it will climb closer to last year’s 296.
“The donations have also been pretty good as of mid-November,” she said.
Wilcox said this Christmas is busier than usual. Over 300 children and over 200 families and individuals have signed up for some holiday assistance.
People have been late in signing up this year, she said, but they keep trickling in.
To contribute time or money to these organizations, contact the Potsdam Holiday Fund at 261-9887 or [email protected], P.O. Box 827, Potsdam, NY 13676. The Canton Church and Community Program can be reached at 386-3534 or 95 Main St., Canton, third floor, Canton, NY 13617.