Salvation Army, Goodwill, Santa give to those in need


Tough times won't prevent Matthew Honiker's two young girls from celebrating Christmas. But they almost did.

The 24-year-old Pittsfield resident was laid off from his construction job earlier this year after the winter weather set in. His family applied to three nonprofits so their daughters could receive presents, but only the request through the First Salvation Army has come through.

"So far, it's at least one present each, but in years past that has been more than I can give them," said Shannon Steffey, the children's mother.

The family gathered at a First Salvation Army party on Saturday afternoon, one of multiple attempts by Berkshire County nonprofits to bring Christmas cheer to cash-strapped families leading up to the holiday.

The Goodwill Shop on Dalton Avenue also held a Christmas celebration, inviting Santa Claus to hand out books, candy and stuffed animals.

For First Salvation Army, it hasn't been an easy year to meet the community's needs.

While it has been able to help provide food and gifts to 500 children, getting donatons has been more difficult than in years past, according to Maj. Jim Fletcher.

Donations to First Salvation Church bell ringers and toy donations are both down this year.

The Salvation Army was still able to come through and provide all the families that applied with toys, he said.

Collections are some $10,000 less than in past years, totaling about $38,000, Fletcher said. He said he still expects to collect about $52,000 the end of the year, but that's still a lower total than in years past.

"It's not getting any lesser," Fletcher said about the need in the community.

The gifts included Honiker's daughters, Kaitlynn, 6, and Alyssa, 3, walking away with a jewelry box and a stuffed bear. The presents were especially appreciated because Alyssa's birthday was Saturday.

"Trying to find work is difficult and her birthday four days before [Christmas] is rough," Honiker said.

The number of donated toys, in particular, was lower, with Berkshire Bank coming through with a donation to ensure every family that put in an application received a meal and gifts, according to volunteer Rebecca St. Jock Litourneau.

Pittsfield resident Steven Clark's family also benefitted. He works 30 hours a week, but said the family budget doesn't leave room to pay for Christmas presents for his 8-year-old son, Ethyn.

Clark described his son as the "apple of my eye," and said he was thankful his son to able to walk away with Hot Wheels race cars and linking blocks.

Ethyn was obviously thrilled because he wasn't letting go of any of his presents.

"It's a struggle with rent and utilities and this lightens the load and makes things bigger and brighter for the children," Clark said. "And we appreciate every contribution."

Meanwhile, between 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., there were about 40 children who stopped by and received gifts at Goodwill's event. Len Patnode, a Goodwill board member dressed up as Santa Claus.

The children sat in his lap, looked up at him, and asked Santa for the best their mind's could conjure: a horse, iPad, dolls and toy tow trucks.

"The hugs I got -- that tells you they believe," Patnode said.

To reach John Sakata:
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata


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