BCAC seeks support to wrap kids' winter clothing drive

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PITTSFIELD — As the week before Christmas and the official start of the winter season near, community programs administrator Melissa Baehr and the rest of her team of good-natured spirits are making a final appeal to help the Berkshire Community Action Council fulfill all the warm-clothing wishes submitted for its annual "Keep Our Kids Berkshire Warm" campaign.

Requests from families to outfit more than 2,000 children up to age 12 poured in this year for the campaign — it's also known as the Holiday Elf program —and staff and volunteers have been packaging and delivering bundles of clothes to families as soon as the sponsored clothing comes through the door.

The requests are filled three ways:

- Interested sponsors can pick up a card listing a child's first name, gender, age, and clothing and boot sizes, and what toys they like, and purchase items on the list;

- People can donate general items in children's and young adults' sizes to help fill in the gaps;

- Or cash or check donations can be made to help the agency purchase items, which can be delivered to BCAC all year long for the annual distribution.

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As of Thursday, Baehr said, about "1,700 bags are out the door and delivered," but a few hundred more requests remain.

"Really, what BCAC needs right now is boots, youth sizes. We ran into this issue last year, too," she said. "[We've received] so much support from the community, but what we really need are boots."

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One other challenge, she said, is fulfilling requests for the older children and youths listing larger sizes.

"They're usually some of the last ones to be picked. We need women's-sized boots; men's-sized boots, too," Baehr said. "The kids come in all sizes, and we need to make sure we can provide that for them. People have to understand that there are some children that are bigger than other children."

She hopes all the sponsorship cards and gifts will be fulfilled by the Tuesday deadline.

Baehr said the warm-clothing campaign encountered an additional challenge this season with the shuttering of the Berkshire Mall, which BCAC used as a satellite campaign venue. Various stores often would spread the word and/or offer discounts for patrons of the campaign.

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"It's one of the reasons why we started brainstorming this summer about how we can reach out to the community," Baehr said. "Because of the mall closing, we had to think about how to spread the word and get sponsors."

The outreach effort yielded more than 40 new and continuing community partners countywide, from businesses to school, church and various community groups.

Baehr said she was pleased that the campaign's reputation is spreading to new businesses as well.

"Wayfair reached out to BCAC to get involved when they just came into town," she said. "It's exciting to know businesses are coming into our community and are willing to give back into the community."

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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