Christmas Project going strong for 40+ years

By Julia Green
A part of the Margaretville holiday tradition for over 40 years, the Community Christmas Project is gearing up for the 2008 holiday season. The Christmas Project, which was founded by a group of women from the Margaretville United Methodist Church, provides food baskets and gifts for approximately 130 needy families in the Margaretville area.
The Community Christmas Project also seeks to brighten the holiday season for other groups by sending holiday cards made by Margaretville Central School CROP students and gift certificates to the Cheese Barrel and Flour Patch to the single elderly as well as by reaching out to the bereaved. In the past, the group has sent poinsettias to families who have lost loved ones; this year, they will be sending loaves of bread.
“It was a group of ladies from the church who started it and it used to be used toys, and it’s kind of grown from there,” said Teresa Goodchild, who serves as co-chair of the group with Rebecca Miller. Goodchild’s grandmother, Ina Kelly, was one of the women who founded the Community Christmas Project, and Goodchild said she was recruited by Terry Marks after relocating back to the area from Arizona 18 or 19 years ago.
Marks said the Christmas Project began around the mid-1960s.
“It started out with people cleaning up used toys over in the old firehall night after night, just trying to fix old toys and paint bikes and put puzzles together to make sure all the pieces were there – that was 35 years ago.
“It’s neat that Teresa is the head of it now, since her grandmother was the founder,” she added. “And she takes care of coordinating all the lists – that’s a big job.”
The Community Christmas Project exists with the purpose of acting as an “umbrella organization,” soliciting donations of time, energy, gifts and money from individuals and groups. A group of women make up the food baskets, which include a gift certificate for a turkey, canned goods, fresh potatoes, apples and oranges, homemade cookies and breads, and gift certificates to the A&P in Margaretville. The baskets are then delivered to families in the area.
“The delivery’s going to be on Dec. 20 – the Saturday before Christmas,” Goodchild said. “Gary Marks gets volunteers from the Rotary and different guys and gals that he knows and he makes all the phone calls for the delivery. People fill up their cars with 10 or 12 homes’ worth of stuff and they go deliver them.”
“The Purcell Center becomes the little busy bee place the whole week,” Terry Marks said. “They put the boxes together on Monday and things get packed and put together that whole week. Jean [Judge] heads that up and has quite a few ladies who help her.”
The group of women spearheading the effort include: Judge, who organizes the food; Joanne Finberg, who is responsible for the advertising and collecting of names of bereaved families; Peg Sweeney and Barb Kapitko, who collect the breads and cookies; Marilyn Pitetti, who organizes the auction fund-raiser; and Marks.
One part of the fund-raising efforts for the Community Christmas Project is a trip to Radio City Music Hall in New York City. This year’s trip took place the weekend of Nov. 16.
“That kind of happened about by chance,” Goodchild said. “It used to be the [Margaretville Central School] Honor Society that did it, but they kind of backed away from it. We’ve been doing it for 12 or 13 years.”
People from the community are invited to purchase tickets to see the Christmas Spectacular at the Radio City Music Hall through the Community Christmas Project. The ticket price includes admission to the show as well as charter bus transportation to the city. In addition, people are asked to bring one new pair of gloves or mittens to donate to the Christmas Project, which are included with the children’s toys.
The other fund-raising aspect of the Community Christmas Project is the Annual Jimmy DiGiacomo auction. This year’s event will be held Sunday, Dec. 7 at the Inn Between in Margaretville. The event will begin at 6 p.m. and will be preceded by a preview at 5:30 p.m. The cost of admission is $15, which covers hors d’oeuvres, and there will be a cash bar. Dennis Metnick and Tony Lanza will serve as auctioneers, and live music will be provided by Wendy Nief and Nightlife.
“Various services and items ideal for Christmas gifts are being auctioned,” Pitetti said. “We have items in all price ranges, and of course we have some original paintings and original craftwork from various artists in the community as well as regular merchandise donated by local merchants.”
Both Goodchild and Marks say they have witnessed overwhelmingly positive feedback over the years from both sides of the Christmas Project.
“Just this year, we were short of funds and Teresa went to the Margaretville Fire Department and asked for $1,000 at the meeting,” Marks said. “One guy stood up and said, ‘You guys delivered a box to me when I was out of work and it made our Christmas.’ Then he said, ‘I vote that we offer $2,000’ – and they did.”
She added that they receive numerous beautiful thank-you notes, many simply for the holiday cards created by the CROP students.
Goodchild added, “Every once in awhile there’s a letter in the Mailbag that says, ‘Thank you, you really brightened our Christmas. We’ve had lots of cards and notes from people thanking us for thinking of them.”
And, on the flip side of the equation, Marks recalls numerous occasions on which those delivering the baskets were equally as affected.
“I remember one year when one of the gentlemen came back from delivering and his eyes were teary because he said the looks on those kids’ faces when he brought those to the house… he said it made his Christmas,” she said. “Some of these guys have been delivering as long as I’ve been there, and they come back with these heartwarming stories.”
Donations to the Community Christmas Project are still being accepted. To make a donation, please send checks or cash donations to: Community Christmas Project, P.O. Box 58, Margaretville, NY 12455.