Think back to your fondest memory of the holidays. Was it sitting down to a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with your loving family and friend? Was it opening a favorite toy when you were a kid? Was it making someone else’s holiday meal and or Christmas morning better?
There are hundreds of families in our community that would not have any of those memories if not for the various programs and the generous staff, volunteers and donors that make the holidays happen – right down to the turkey and mashed potatoes, Christmas morning gifts and warm hats and gloves.
Did you know:
St. Susan’s Soup Kitchen served the most guests EVER last month? 11,369 meals, an increase of 1,100 meals over last month, September 2019.
The Jamestown Salvation Army has 535 families signed up for gifts and meals?
The UCAN mission for men is full year-round, there is no slow season.
The Blue Star Mothers sent 1400 boxes to deployed troops in 2018 at a cost of $20,000 in postage. They will be sending close to the same in 2019.
The Toys of Tots program, run by The Resource Center, is planning on giving 5,000+ toys away again this year using 100s of volunteers and volunteer staff time.
Where do you fit into the giving mix?
What tugs at your heart strings?
“Filling each bowl with love” is the St. Susan motto. They do it to the count of 350 meals per day, every day, except for a handful of holidays. This Thanksgiving they are giving away 200 turkey dinner meal boxes and could use a little help to make sure each family that receives a box has a complete turkey dinner. The soup kitchen serves anyone that walks through the door; no proof of income or need required. Executive Director Bonny Scott-Sleight says, “We serve many working poor that are working full-time and more, but cannot make ends meet.” She added, “now that the cold is upon us, we will see less guests, but there is a need for warm clothing, especially for men’s gloves and hats in large and XL sizes.” St. Susan’s can also use donations of milk (1% and 2%), 100% juice, saltine crackers, plastic spoons and forks and of course, cash and volunteers. “We can take a donor’s $1 and buy $6 worth of food from the WNY Food Bank,” said Ms. Scott-Sleight. You can contact the Soup Kitchen at 716-664-2253 or visit them at 31 Water St., Jamestown, N.Y.
“Sharing is Caring”
The Salvation Army’s seasonal assistance program is all about food and gifts for the needy. “This year we have 535 families signed up for gifts and food baskets,” said Elizabeth Margarito, Emergency Basic Needs Supervisor, “our goal is to make sure Christmas is good for our clients and families.” According to Ms. Margarito the working poor are most of the recipients of the food and gifts. All must provide proof of need and residency. According to the 2017 Data USA information, Chautauqua County has an 18.5% poverty rate – that’s over 24,000 people! The Western New York Food Bank sets the bar at 200% of the national poverty level which translates to $12,000 a year for a one-person household. There is no room in such a budget for holiday spending. The Salvation Army gives a holiday meal basket to anyone that signs up. The food pantry is open five days a week to provide year-round support.
“We are in need of seasonal and year-round volunteers for the food pantry and the Angel Tree program,” said Ms. Margarito, “The Red Kettle program needs bell ringers. The donations collected stay local. Ringers can be inside or out, but it is a vital program for our community. We need volunteers to help organize the donations of food and toys and then to distribute them. The Angel Tree program always has a need for following up with the details. For instance, sometimes tags do not get returned or not all the gifts are purchased for the child on the tag. Someone has to get into the details to make sure every child in the Angel Tree program receives their gifts. That takes time.”
Items needed for the Salvation Army food baskets are stuffing, potatoes, gravy, and turkey. The Angel Tree program needs new unused toys to make up for the tags that are not returned and to fill the gaps where a tag was not taken or not enough was returned for a particular aged child. All donations of food, money and toys can be dropped off at the Salvation Army at 83 S. Main St. Jamestown, NY. For more information Ms. Margarito can be reached at 716-664-4108.
“Reaching the least, the last and the lost.”
UCAN (United Christian Advocacy Network) works exclusively with men in need. Jeff Rotunda, the Interim Executive Director, says, “We really appreciate the community’s support. I encourage anyone to come take a tour of the facility and see what we are doing here. Talk to us about the needs of our guests.” The UCAN programming is the same year-round – the staff and volunteers provide a safe place for the men to sleep, eat breakfast and dinner, and provide many opportunities for Bible study and life helps. Mr. Rotunda added, “we need volunteers to facilitate classes and mentor our guests. We always need cleaning supplies, disinfectant wipes, sprays, etc.” The program does not receive public money, it is managed with donations from groups, churches and individuals. You can reach Mr. Rotunda at 716-488-7480 and donations can be dropped off at the UCAN address, 7 W. First St., Jamestown, N.Y.
Proud mothers of America’s military
Sue Haskell Rowley bubbles over with enthusiasm for the Blue Star Mother’s Christmas Care Package program, “We are the vehicle, the community is the fuel, and we are on a rocket now!” The first year the program sent 38 packages to deployed service members, this year they are planning on 1,000 plus. She said, “We send packages to any deployed service member we have an address for. They are related to western New York in some way through relatives and friends.” The Blue Star Mothers chapter in this area will be packing boxes on Saturday December 7 at 9 AM at the Fluvanna Community Church Family Center at 3363 Fluvanna Ave., Jamestown. They are collecting through December 5 when they will meet to organize the donations. Volunteers are needed for both the organizing and packing days.
Ms. Rowley said, “We had 300 volunteers last year and we hope for that many this year. It was amazing! I saw such patriotism and pride in America in that room last year. The volunteers came as families, youth groups, couples and individuals to show their support for those in uniform. Every year it’s my Christmas morning!” Ms. Rowley added, “this is a great way for high school students to volunteer and get credit for their graduation requirements.”
Handwritten notes and cards are needed
“What really hits home for the troops are handwritten notes and cards. Why not take a stack of thank you notes or Christmas cards to your Thanksgiving dinner and ask your family and friends to write a thank you to the men and women that make our freedom possible? So great for our children to be involved too. We place the notes and cards on the top of the package so it’s the first things the troops see. It really means a lot to them,” says Ms. Rowley.
Items needed can be found on the website bluestarmotherswny.com. Other needs are cash donations to pay for the postage, which was about $20,000 in 2018, nuts, beef jerky, peanut butter and ground coffee. There are specific items that are not needed due to their inability to ship safely. Again, review the information on the website.
Save the date for Wreaths Across America
Wreaths will be placed on Veteran gravesites in Lake View Cemetery, Buffalo and Lakeview Ave., Jamestown, N.Y. on December 14. Donations to support the wreath purchases can be sent to the local chapter at Blue Star Mothers NY4, PO Box 22, Jamestown, N.Y. 14702-0022.
Toys, toys and more toys
Started 19 years ago, the Marine Corps Reserves program depends on volunteers to distribute toys to children in need. The local program is administered by The Resource Center. According to Terri Johnson, TRC program leader, “it’s important to us that every child in the County has something to open on Christmas morning. We are grateful for all the volunteers who help us and the donations of toys and cash to make the program successful.” Johnson and other staff members donate many hours to the program outside of normal work hours. Allied Alarm Services owner, Mike Roberts donates space to store, sort and manage the thousands of gifts.
The program depends on volunteers to run. “It’s a whirlwind of activity when we get to this time of year,” said Johnson. 100s of volunteers make it happen. They manage drop off boxes at 100 different sites throughout the County, they collect the toys, sort, bag and pass out the toys. SKF, a community partner, volunteers to deliver the north County gifts. Johnson suggested that this is a good way for school groups to volunteer to earn community service hours.
Ms. Johnson added, “2018 was a record year with about 5,700 gifts delivered to over 3,200 children. There is a great need in our County. Every recipient must show proof of income. We are probably going to have the same level of need this year.” More information can be found at the Toys for Tots page on the TRC website, To volunteer or donate please call Ms. Johnson at 716-661-1433
The Season for Giving
I encourage you to give of your time, talents and treasure to one or more of the above programs. You will be enriched, and your fellow County residents will be grateful. If each one of us does one thing to make someone else’s holiday better, it lifts the entire community.