By CRAIG FREILICH
Canton and Potsdam area organizations make the holidays a happier occasion for people who don’t have much as Christmas approaches.
The Canton Church and Community Program and the Potsdam Holiday Fund mount special Christmastime programs, while the Neighborhood Centers in Canton and Potsdam try to cover any gaps throughout the year.
Catherine Mathews, director of the Canton Church and Community Program, says their holiday program is “going wonderfully.
“The Angel Tree presents are piling up, and we’re buying toys and winter clothes for over 200 children,” Mathews said.
About 500 tags were distributed to locations throughout the Canton area where people could pick them up and try to match a toy with the identifying information on the tag, or donate money to the program for the holidays.
“They’re coming in really nicely. People don’t even have to wrap them,” which, as with the Potsdam Holiday Fund’s annual program, makes it easier for people to donate gifts, and squads of volunteers are happy to do the wrapping.
“It’s going very well. The donations are coming in as usual, from the wonderful people of Potsdam,” said Potsdam Holiday Fund President Pam Yurgartis, who leads an army of volunteers in collecting and wrapping hundreds of presents, preparing food baskets, and making arrangements with local merchants to take the food and clothing vouchers the fund gives to people who can make good use of them.
“This year we’re helping 332 families, about the same as last year,” including over 550 kids and 94 adults-only households, Yurgartis said.
All in all, it adds up to a total of about 1,100 people in the Potsdam area who have eceived food baskets, gifts for kids, and vouchers for winter clothes this season.
Among the other tasks, “we’re really a clearinghouse for the gifts,” Yurgartis said.
As with the Angel Trees in Canton, the Potsdam program’s 50-odd Giving Trees give people a chance to participate in giving.
“People take a tag marked with a child’s age and gender from a tree, get a gift, and return it unwrapped,” Yurgartis said. “That’s where the ‘Santa’s Workshop’ volunteer elves come into the picture. In the basement of the United Methodist Church on Main Street, they wrap all the gifts and set them up for distribution to all the families who will be receiving them.”
And the holiday food baskets “will be quite full, with everything for a holiday meal except for perishables, which are covered by a voucher people can use at any of the five food markets in town,” Yurgartis said.
The program shows that “Potsdam is a wonderful place to live, with wonderful folks who provide this program for their neighbors,” she said.
Meanwhile at the Potsdam Neighborhood Center, Director Daisy Cox is grateful for the Potsdam Holiday Fund, which takes some of the load off of the Neighborhood Center at the holidays. As funds allow, Cox says, the center can usually help out people who don’t apply for the Holiday Fund in time or who just find themselves at loose ends.
“With the heating season, we have to prioritize” what it is they can cover with limited funds.
The food pantry “has been very busy,” and will likely remain so, Cox said.
“We saw a small spike at the food pantry with the cut in SNAP benefits last month, and we expect more this month with the added costs of heating fuel,” she said.
“If it’s just a handful, we’ll be just fine.”
Meanwhile the Food Sense program there has been growing, and in a partnership with Helping Hands in Hannawa Falls, they can coordinate orders and pickup. The Food Sense program offers a monthly basket with a variety of foods for $15.50, and is open to everyone.
Lisa Van Kirk, director of the Canton Neighborhood Center, says they had a successful Thanksgiving program, and are not doing much specifically for Christmas.
“We got a donation of toys and stuffed animals from Misty Hollow,” in a program run each year by Bob Porter at the Potsdam store.
“People can come in and ask for toys to give to their kids, and they can take a few. We’ve given out some already,” Van Kirk said.
Meanwhile her food pantry has been “very busy, very steady,” and by very steady, Van Kirk said she meant that need is growing steadily. “Lots of new people are signing up,” she said.
The other programs she runs out of the Neighborhood Center include distribution of FEMA funds when they are available locally, and rent and mortgage assistance and emergency help with electric and gas utility bills for those who run into difficulty making payments.
She also gives counseling and workshops on things such as helping families set goals and budgets, and nutrition and canning workshops.
Donations to these organizations are always welcome.
For information on how you can help these programs, call Catherine Mathews at the Canton Church and Community Program, 95 Main St., 386-3534; the Potsdam Holiday Fund at 261-9887; the Potsdam Neighborhood Center in the basement of the Civic Center, 265-3920; and the Canton Neighborhood Center, 4 West St., 386-3541.