PLATTSBURGH — Donations have been strong so far, but the Clinton County Christmas Bureau here is seeing a bigger need this year.
"We can see it in the applications that have come in already," said Co-Director Alice Heckard.
Most years, the Christmas Bureau serves 1,100 families across the county. This year, Heckard anticipates that number to rise because of the poor economy.
She is especially worried about raising enough money for the food vouchers the organization provides to needy families for Christmas dinner.
That's one of the largest costs, she said.
"Too many people need help now."
SITE AT OLD AGWAY
The agency is set up now to provide that help with its new location in the former Agway/Checkerhill Farms building on Boynton Avenue in Plattsburgh.
Owners Dr. Thomas Brown, Matt Sames and Bill Davis stepped up to offer use of the building for the duration of the season.
With plenty of space, shelving and even a loading dock, the location perfectly suits the Christmas Bureau's needs.
"We're very thankful," Heckard said.
"This is a very good building for us. It's so much easier for parking; trucks can pull right up to the back, for everything."
NO PAID STAFF
On row after row of shelves that once held dog and cat food, a small army of volunteers organize the mountain of toys that have already been donated.
Plush stuffed animals sit next to an assortment of family board games, with an end-cap display of pillow pets rounding out just one small section of the space.
Toys for all age groups pack the deep shelves.
The Christmas Bureau is an all-volunteer effort that operates solely on donations, and its first major goal each year is finding a building in which to collect and organize the Christmas toys, winter clothing and other gifts, which will be distributed through local Joint Council of Economic Opportunity outreach centers and towns around the county.
Qualified applicants are given vouchers to buy the necessities for Christmas dinner, as well.
For those interested in helping, Heckard says, they always have a need for volunteers for the gift-wrapping booth in the mall, which is one of the Christmas Bureau's biggest fundraisers.
"We always need people there, especially during daytime hours during the week. We have to be open all the hours the mall is open."
For those who can't volunteer time, the Christmas Bureau needs donations of new, unwrapped toys and also money. The need this year is especially acute for toys for girls and boys ages 10 to 16.
Heckard suggests that gift cards are always a good idea for teens, who are notoriously hard to shop for.
It's important to get those donations in soon.
The gifts and vouchers begin to make their way to JCEO and town offices starting Dec. 11, Heckard said.
"It's packed up here and sent to the town where they applied. We don't even see the families."
TO GET HELP
People in need can go to the JCEO Outreach Office in their town to apply. In the City of Plattsburgh, call 570-9692 for more information.
The applicants' income is verified, so that only the truly needy are receiving help and there is no duplication of services.
The deadline for application is Friday, Dec. 9.
For some volunteers, like Heckard and Co-Director Tammy Perrotte-Sears, the Christmas Bureau is a yearlong commitment.
For most others, it's a month of hectic work between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"The only reason we exist is to provide Christmas for low-income families," Heckard said.
"That is our only reason for being."