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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 25, 2010

A bucket brigade of toys and goods to fill store for Hilltown families in need

By Zach Simeone

HILLTOWNS — Local organizations are gearing up to make it a memorable holiday season for families in need.

The Hilltowns Community Resource Center is getting ready to set up its Christmas store, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department will soon be having its annual Christmas party, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Altamont will host a lunch with Santa.

“I bet you, when they open those gifts on Christmas morning, there are some happy children, and some even happier parents, because they have a venue to go to get gifts for their kids,” said Darlene Stanton, who volunteers at the VFW Post in Altamont, and has been helping the sheriff’s department plan its Christmas parties for more than a decade.

Kathleen Speck, director of the resource center, explained the process of creating a Hilltown hub for holiday gifts with the Christmas store.

“It’s a two-week turnaround, from filling the place up, to totally emptying it,” Speck told The Enterprise. “We call it a store, but there’s no exchange of money, so people can come and shop and take whatever they need.”

It always starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving, she said, when the truckloads of clothing and toys come in from the various contributing fund-raisers; the confirmation class from St. Pius X Church in Loudonville, for example, holds a clothing drive, Speck said.

So, this Sunday, the gifts will arrive at the Modern Woodman’s Hall in Westerlo, where the store will be set up, though the venue changes from year to year.

“The teenagers and chaperones come, and it’s like a bucket brigade of unloading the trucks into the building, and this empty space goes to being piled full of stuff,” Speck said. “It’s incredible.”

In the week following, volunteers come in and wade through the gifts that have come in.

“Items that are food go to one side, then clothing items are sorted by gender, baby clothes, etc.,” said Speck. “The week after Thanksgiving is when we do all the setup, so the first full week in December is when our families will come and shop, and then, by Friday, the whole thing is empty.”

In 2008, there were 630 people who got gifts from the store; last year, there were 642.

“We could still use sponsors,” Speck said. “Cash donations are great; gift cards; we have a lot of families coming forward.”

Donations can be made to the Hilltowns Community Resource Center at Post Office Box 147, Westerlo, NY 12193. Those with questions can call the resource center at 797-5256.

“We have a whole slew of volunteers that come in after it’s set up, and they shop on behalf of the seniors,” Speck said. “We send them all a wish list; what do they need? What are their sizes? What are their colors? And some of the Kiwanis come and try and fill up that list.”

The resource center also works cooperatively with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department in organizing its annual Christmas party, which will take place this year on Sunday, Dec. 19, from noon to 4 p.m., at 24 Martin Road, just upstairs from the department’s Voorheesville station.

The department will also hold a toy drive this Sunday, Nov. 27, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Hannaford Plaza on Maple Road in Voorheesville.

There are also donation boxes at the Hannaford in Delmar; at Westerlo Town Hall; at Walgreens in Guilderland and Colonie; at Emma Cleary’s Café in New Scotland; at First Niagara Bank in Voorheesville; at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland; and at The Altamont Enterprise. Checks should be made payable to the Hilltowns Christmas Program.

“The fund-raising started the third week of October,” said Kathaleen Taylor, who takes up the reins at the sheriff’s department, “and then we have people that can’t make the party, so we keep going right up until Christmas.”

People need not bring gifts to the party — “They don’t bring anything except for themselves,” Taylor said.

While the party is going on in Voorheesville, the man in the red suit will be in Altamont.

The VFW Post’s lunch with Santa will take place on Dec. 19, from 1 to 4 p.m. The event is open to all children ages 13 and under, though they have to register ahead of time by calling Janet Nopper at 861-3669.

“We need to know the age and sex of the child so we can buy them a gift from Santa,” Stanton said.

Stanton, whose husband died earlier this month, has received $1,000 in donations in her husband’s memory, which will go towards helping children in low-income families. She encourages people to make donations, whether they be monetary, toys, or clothing, to the VFW Post in Altamont. They can also buy stockings for $5 each, and proceeds go to the same cause.

“It’s great for the kids, but sometimes the parents get left out, and the parents are also in need,” Stanton said. “It always works. Everybody gets something.”

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