The Gift Bringer Isn’t Always Santa Claus

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A fraction of the Salvation Army's Angel Tree Christmas toy distribution ready for delivery.
A fraction of the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Christmas toy distribution ready for delivery.

The Season of Generosity

All around the world at Christmas time, friends and families, parents and children joyfully give and receive gifts of all sorts. It is one of the most widely celebrated traditions the world over.

A cherished memory of childhood is the Christmas Gift Bringer. This great and generous sprit is often called Santa Claus, St. Nicholas or Father Christmas; in Western Europe many people say that he is either Sinterklaas or the Christkind, in the Czech Republic, Ježíšek; in Spain the Wise Men and in Italy children wait eagerly for an old lady called Befana who brings them gifts on Epiphany Eve, the night of January 5. Gifts might turn up under a Christmas tree, stuffed in a socking, wedged into shoes or piled up in overflowing winter boots.

But not always. Gifts for children, in reality, are bought and given by parents and family, if they can. When they can’t, though, it is the kindness of strangers that often steps in for that great Christmas Gift Bringer. Chautauqua County is among the most generous in the land in that way.

“It is more inspiring every year,” said Steve Waterson, Community Relations Director for The Resource Center in Jamestown, the local community partner of the United States Marine Corps Reserves and their Toys for Tots Program. Waterson described the growth of the local program from a mere handful only a few years ago—about 12 local families originally—to giving Christmas presents now to about 2,500 local children every year through Toys for Tots. With 110 Toy Barrel sites across the county, Waterson said, “We’ve never had to turn anyone away.

The primary goal of Toys for Tots, according to the United States Marine Corps Reserves, is “to deliver, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate youngsters that will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.” The national program began in 1947 with the give away of a few Raggedy Ann and Raggedy dolls hand made by the wife of a single US Marine.

The Salvation Army Angel Tree Program is another way Chautauqua County citizens have stepped into the Christmas Gift Bringer’s shoes. “My heart has truly been moved by the generous spirit and hometown warmth of Jamestown,” said Judy Hart, Salvation Army Church Pastor with her husband Major Doug Hart. “So many people here simply want to make life better for someone else because they’ve seen hard times themselves.” For Christmas 2012, the Angel Tree Program in Jamestown has been empowered to distribute more than 1,200 sacks full of

Christmas gifts to children in families with little success inviting Santa Claus to their home this year.

During the months of September, October and November applications were accepted at the Salvation Army Church from parents who know the coming Christmas season would be a lean time. After each application was verified, a child’s first name, age and gender were written on a paper Christmas ornament and hung on a tree at the church or many other locations around the city. Contributors were invited to take a tag and attach it to an approximately $25 gift and leave it at the church, unwrapped. The gifts are wrapped and distributed to parents on December 20 in time for a Christmas morning unwrapping.

In the case of a donor who is unable to fulfill their Angel Tree promise to the child they selected, the Salvation Army purchases those missing gifts using a small part of the Red Kettle funds. “No child who has been promised a present will ever go without,” Major Hart said. “That doesn’t mean everybody we help is poor,” Major Judy added, “simply, for now, it is beyond their means.”

Currently, about 15 percent of residents in Chautauqua County, more than 20,000 individuals, which includes about 25 percent of the county’s children age 0-17, report income at or below the federally recognized poverty level: Christmas can be a difficult time for many throughout the region.

“It is very sad to see a hungry child at Christmas time, or at any time of the year,” said Sue Colwell, Executive Director of Jamestown’s St. Susan Center. “So it makes us very happy to give a good, hot meal to children and their families during the Christmas season; some of them are not only in poverty but homeless too.”

St. Susan Center provides hundreds of meals every day through the generosity of local citizens who contribute food and money. Many local restaurants and supermarkets also provide stacks and truckloads of unused food. The generosity of local businesses reflects the fact that local business owners care about their customers. They are also their friends and family in the community.

In addition to financial gifts and toys, many local citizens pitch in with their time. “We have had close to 200 people this year volunteering as Santa’s Helpers, sorting, wrapping and distributing gifts,” said Mike Volk, the local TRC coordinator for the Toys for Tots Program.

Backing up his claim that Jamestown and Chautauqua County residents make up a remarkably generous community, caring for one another, Major Hart penciled a little bit of arithmetic. “Every year we exceed our goal of $100,000 in Red Kettle contributions,” Hart pointed out. “I also learned that Jamestown’s population is just over 30,000. That makes about $3 in contributions from every man, woman and child. And the Salvation Army isn’t even the only outreach helping children and families through difficult times. This is a wonderful community.”

To learn more about opportunities for giving and serving in your community, visit http://www.uss.salvationarmy.org, http://www.toysfortots.org/ and http://stsusancenter.org/.