Community Makes it Christmas with Holiday Connections

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Major John Merchant at the Salvation Army checks toys donated for Christmas toy delivery.
Major John Merchant at the Salvation Army checks toys donated for Christmas toy delivery.

With the holiday season now in full swing, Jamestown Gazette readers in the tri-county region of Chautauqua, Warren, and Cattaraugus have proven that the festive season is for everyone. We are leaving no one behind.

Once again, special partnerships are pitching in, especially for children in difficult circumstances. The number of community organizations, churches, businesses, schools, and local governments is only exceeded by the number of generous people who are making it all work.

“We are not just giving children a gift to unwrap,” said one volunteer, “we are giving them hope that things can get better because of people who care.”

Unlikely Networks

That single comment represents only one of the many remarkable networks that always spring up in our region at Christmas time. The speaker was Mike Roberts, owner of Allied Alarm in Falconer, working with the US Marine Corps and Jamestown’s Resource Center, while also representing the Jamestown Rotary Club by ringing the Red Kettle bells for the Salvation Army who were also supported by Chautauqua County Highway superintendents—an improbable network that at any other time would not come together.

Altogether, last year that remarkable team provided holiday gifts for 3213 children and distributed 5792 toys. “We could not do it alone,” said Terri Johnson, Assistant Executive Director at the Resource Center, a local founder and one of three coordinators for Toys for Tots in Chautauqua County.

The Rotary Club of Jamestown honored the spirit of the season in it’s motto, “Service above self.” For the Christmas and Holiday season, when the Salvation Army focuses on providing Christmas gifts to children growing up in financially challenged families, Rotarians have traditionally rung the Red Kettle bells in support. This year, 27 Rotarians, more than one in every four members, gave two-hour shifts, or 54 hours, to help the Army meet the community’s needs.

Such remarkable networks seem natural in our region at Christmas time. And perhaps best of all, they are held together by the caring and generosity of individuals, not by laws, profit motives, political parties, or any single faith tradition.
Not All Little Ones

This year, local Blue Star Mothers—mothers of US service members—sent 969 Christmas boxes, and 1,400 throughout all of 2019, to overseas troops, each one of whom is somebody’s child.

“It has become a real community event,” said Kathy Collver, publicity chair for Blue Star mothers in the region. “This year more than 300 people volunteered at our staging area, Fluvanna Community Church, to pack our gift boxes.

In 2019 Blue Star spent $30,000 on boxes and postage. This year Jamestown Rubber Stamp Company donated all of the printed labeling. Additional contributors in the network, giving whatever their specialty can offer, include Jamestown Container, Lakewood Rod and Gun Club, the Police Benevolent Association, the Sheriff’s Department, many banks, schools, veterans’ groups and many more. The Veterans of Modern Warfare contributed Christmas tree sales at Harley-Davidson.

Expanding Their Roles

Jamestown’s Prendergast Library’s commitment is to provide knowledge and education for adults and children, but at Christmas time the community’s children came especially into focus.

Tina Scott, executive director at the Prendergast Library, said, “kids are so creative, specially when it comes to building gingerbread houses with graham crackers.” Last week the library hosted a free Gingerbread Workshop on December 18. “The children are real architects,” Scott added, “especially when they can fill up their handmade gingerbread houses with candy and glue the roofs on with real sweet icing. Of course, sometimes the building materials disappear along the way,” Scott said with a knowing smile, “but builders need nutrition, don’t they?” This event was not a fundraiser, just good clean fun for parents and children at their favorite community library.

 

Dad and daughter build Gingerbread mansions at Prendergast Library.
Dad and daughter build Gingerbread mansions at Prendergast Library.

 

Sometimes, All for One

At times Christmas is hardest for children with special needs and their families. In recent years, the Jamestown Gazette has publicized such needs and the community has come together to help.

One such case was Kallie’s Krusade to “fight like a girl” against pediatric cancer and other childhood illnesses. According to Kallie’s mom, Tara Swan, a high school guidance counselor at Falconer Central School, “The success of Kallie’s Krusade is built on the generosity and kindheartedness of this community.  Without the support of the community, we would not be able to raise money to provide these families with educational, emotional and financial support.” The holiday season is an ideal time for the community to ramp up their involvement.

In another such well publicized case, Zuzu’s Hope, the local community has come together to help the family of Ziulianis “Zuzu” Martinez-Vega to raise $7,000 for training a service dog, a goldendoodle dog named Hope. In one more unusual partnership, a local chapter of Brothers By Choice is stepping in to help raise the funds. Brothers by choice is “a community organization building an idea that not all bikers are bad so we have taken it upon ourselves to prove just that.”

A Gift of Hope

A Christmas present, a donation, an hour or two of caring service to a community member, whether a neighbor or a stranger, will be more than a gift this year, it will be the gift of hope for a better future.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a joyful and prosperous New Year to all from the Jamestown Gazette.

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.