When Santa’s Not Enough – We Are!

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At Lakewood Rod and Gun Club, (L to R) Salvation Army Major Kim Merchant, Santa Jim Spencer, Major John Merchant, Doug Peterson, co-owner of Southern Tier Supply.
At Lakewood Rod and Gun Club, (L to R) Salvation Army Major Kim Merchant, Santa Jim Spencer, Major John Merchant, Doug Peterson, co-owner of Southern Tier Supply.

Christmas in our neighborhood this year will be about more than a Jolly Old Elf who clambers down your chimney on a cold winter’s night.

And that’s a good thing. Not all of us have chimneys and fireplaces these days anyway, or even a warm, safe home for that cold winter’s night. For some of our friends and neighbors, and especially for their children, Santa’s style may have gotten a little cramped.

A Little Help From Our Friends

Communities are coming together once again all across the region to express the real spirit of the season – the spirit of caring for one another.

While many local organizations reach out all year long to help families in need, and especially during the holidays, organizations do not do it alone. According to Nicole Drozdiel, director of community impact at the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, “Very often we hear from individuals and families who simply ask, ‘Where do we go to help?'”

“We are seeing more collaboration than ever before,” Drozdiel added. “Whenever there is a tragedy in one of our local communities the social networks light up like a Christmas tree with people eager to help.”

Majors John and Kim Merchant at Jamestown’s Salvation Army have accepted nearly 900 family requests for help giving their children what will probably be the only Christmas presents they will receive this year. This is also in addition to the 750 to 1,000 families helped every month of the year with food, transportation, and clothing. The famous, annual Red Kettle Drive this year has been shortened by a full week because it begins after Thanksgiving, which was unusually late in 2019. Major Merchant urges shoppers to help even more than ever this year. The people whom the Red Kettle contributions serve deeply appreciate that generosity.

Conduits for Generosity

Social service organizations could do little without the hundreds and thousands of generous individuals who give freely of their time and talents at Christmas and all year long. At the Jamestown Boys and Girls Club, Assistant Executive Director Dianne Woleen reports, “People all over the community have been contributing so that boys and girls in the club will have a better Christmas.”

The Chautauqua Quilters, for example, have hand-crafted more than 250 pillows with hand-made pillowcases during a year-long project and for boys and girls in the club. They and others have also provided warm hats, scarves, and gloves for the winter season.

“Individual donors and employees at the Boys and Girls Club are truly committed to making sure everyone has a merry Christmas,” Woleen added.

Unexpected Santas

Not every community service or organization has created a program aimed at caring for community’s children for the holiday season, yet many of them care for the children in other ways all year long. They echo the same holiday spirit.

“The community is very generous and often only needs means of expressing their generosity,” said Karen Mason, program supervisor at the Jamestown Community Learning Council. The greatest od Christmas gifts is offered all year long in many local communities. According to Laurie Mahoney, president of Junior Achievement of Western New York, that gift is the “belief in the boundless potential of all young people.” And to counter the over-commercialized holiday season, Mahoney described a key component of JA’s work: “to teach young people difference between wants and needs.”
Most unexpected in the Western New York Santa story is that for the last 16 years some of Sants’s best elves are the local Highway Superintendents and their “Toys for Kids” program.

Greg Hallberg, with the Chautauqua County Highway Department, in cooperation with Doug Peterson, co-owner with his wife, Martha, of Southern Tier Supply in Jamestown, have rallied the region’s town and village highway superintendents to provide Christmas gifts for local children. This year, at a luncheon at Lakewood’s Rod and Gun Club, they met to contribute more than 900 new toys to bolster the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. Angel Tree donors deliver three age-appropriate gifts to each child whose parent(s) enrolled them in the program based on the child’s very own wish lists.

Rounding out the holiday community spirit this year is the Walmart Supercenter in Lakewood, NY. The store, its management, and its employees have hosted two of the Salvation Army Angel Trees. According to Assistant Manager Don Hatch, the generosity of local shoppers has already completely used up all the tags on the trees three times. The toys will be distributed on December 19 and 20th. Major Merchant added that more than 95% of the Angel Tree tags are returned with the gifts they promised.

This year, the spirit of giving has even been extended to pets. “Pets often provide the only love and comfort there is in some people’s lives,” Merchant explained. The Salvation Army has teamed up with the Humane Society so that contributions can be given for pets. “We would rather help people feed their beloved pets then see people feed their own food to them.” In some local school districts, the Jamestown Gazette has learned, teachers collect warm winter clothing and food to help students whose families may be experiencing challenges of their own this year.

Giving Is Everything

It is simply a part of human nature to want to give,” said Doug Peterson. “At Christmas time people truly discover they can be more blessed in giving than receiving.” As Nicole Drozdiel reminded us once more, When Santa cannot do enough – the rest of us can!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all from all of us at your Jamestown Gazette.

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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.