Berkshire programs help children have a merry Christmas

Thursday December 2, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- This time of year, financial need is as pervasive -- if not as conspicuous -- as piped-in Christmas music.

Fortunately, one aspect of that privation is being widely addressed around the county: The mission of a number of programs is to make sure that struggling parents can light up their children's holiday with gifts -- without having to break the bank.

Through Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC), people and businesses can sponsor individual children up to 12 by purchasing new, warm clothing based on their size and favorite colors.

"For most of these kids, to get a new outfit, or a new coat or a new pair of boots that someone else hasn't already worn is very exciting," said Patty Brown-Charland, 44, who coordinates volunteers for the BCAC's "Giving Tree" program.

Since Black Friday, 125 children have been sponsored through the program, which has an arm at Berkshire Mall, and donors will buy gifts for hundreds more until the week before Christmas, Brown-Charland said.

More people are in need this year, according to Shirley MacDonald, BCAC director of community programs and food services.

"[There was] a bigger bunch of applications than usual because people who may not have been low-income are in need of our services this year," MacDonald said.

The Laliberte Toy Fund, coordinated for the past 31 years by Lee Police Sgt. Joseph Buffis, provides gifts to children up to age 9 in Lee, Lenox Dale and Tyringham.

"Most parents are pretty overwhelmed by the volume of the bags [they receive]," Buffis said. "These are the only gifts [most of] these kids are going to get."

Other gift services for young children include the Eagle Santa Fund, which purchases toy animals for infants and toddlers and gift certificates to those ages 3 to 11. The Northern Berkshire Santa Fund estimated that at least 600 children will be receiving toys through their donor campaign. The John S. Watson Christmas Fund gives families in South Berkshire food baskets and children clothing certificates.

Programs that provide presents to teenagers are more scarce, but in South County "Gifts for Teens" operates through the Southern Berkshire Community Coalition at Community Health Programs.

Shelley Brooks, SBBC program coordinator, founded the gift-card program six years ago so that struggling parents of teens would have somewhere to turn during the holidays.

"There is nothing out there for teenagers. All the programs are up until 11 or 12 years old, and that's it," Brooks said. "They're the left-out generation."

Last year, the program gave gift cards to 75 kids through individual and business donations.

For the first time this year, they'll be passing out BerkShares, along with a list of places that that accept the local currency that might interest teens.

One year, Butternut Basin donated a few season passes, Brooks said, and she gave one to a teenager who loved to hit the slopes.

"All she wanted to do was ski ... so that was the best Christmas she ever had," Brooks said.

Donate ...

Here are a handful of the local programs providing gifts and assistance to children during the holidays:

BCAC sponsor-a-child: Visit the Giving Tree table at the Berkshire Mall; (413) 445-4503 ext. 109

"Gifts for Teens" in Southern Berkshire: Mail donations to: 343 Main St., P.O. Box 30, Great Barrington, MA 01230 or call (413) 528-1919 ext. 14.

John S. Watson Christmas Fund: Donations can be made to Berkshire Bank offices. Checks payable to the Watson Fund.

Eagle Santa Fund: Mail donations to: The Eagle Santa Fund, P.O. Box 1171, Pittsfield MA 01202 or drop off at The Berkshire Eagle at 75 S. Church St. in Pittsfield.

Northern Berkshire Santa Fund: Mail donations to: Northern Berkshire Santa Fund, c/o North Adams Transcript, 124 American Legion Drive, North Adams, MA 01247 or drop at the front counter of the Transcript and Advocate building.

Laliberte Toy Fund: P.O. Box 21, South Lee, MA 01260 or drop off at Lee Emergency Dispatch Center.


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