POTSDAM - Christmas came early for families in need this weekend as the Potsdam Holiday Fund distributed presents to those who may not be able to afford any of their own.
The fund relies on the generosity of individuals and businesses, who donate new toys and gifts as well as money to provide for food and clothing vouchers. This year, nearly 2,000 presents were distributed to 553 children in need on Friday and Saturday in the Potsdam United Methodist Church basement.
The fund was founded over 20 years ago, and has been growing ever since.
Its just so rewarding, because the families are so appreciative and the community is so giving, said fund President Pamela Yurgartis. I get a lot of hugs, she added.
The gifts were collected over the last several months. About 40 local businesses put out giving trees, each covered with tags listing an age and gender. Those who wished to donate took a tag and purchased a new, unwrapped gift for the fund appropriate for the child listed.
Families who wished to receive gifts from the fund filled out applications and were given an appointment to come pick out their presents.
Ms. Yurgartis said the need for the fund is indicative of the poverty in St. Lawrence County. She said she sees new names every year, most of whom fall well below the poverty line. Anyone from Potsdam and the surrounding towns can apply for aid.
Each child received three presents. The few left over will be saved for next year, or donated to the Saint Lawrence Psychiatric Center.
Along with the toys, every child received pajamas, vouchers to buy warm winter clothing, and the Potsdam Rotary Club gave two books to every child.
The fund was able to raise over $50,000 to provide these vouchers, along with the donated gifts, more than ever before.
Its absolutely awesome. Its a wonderful place to live, Mrs. Yurgartis said.
It takes plenty of volunteers to make the fund happen year after year. Along with the 20-member board, boy scouts, fraternities and sororities all give their time to wrap gifts, bake cookies, and organize the presents.
Just because the gift-giving is over does not mean the season is finished for the holiday fund. Next week, 240 families and 100 senior citizens will be receiving food baskets, just in time for Christmas dinner. All of the food was donated, including 3,840 Christmas cookies. The baskets include vouchers to purchase perishable food items that could not be included.