BRATTLEBORO -- There's been plenty of bad economic news -- both nationally and locally -- in the past five years.
In addition to a national recession and still-sluggish recovery, Brattleboro was hit by Tropical Storm Irene's severe flooding and a fire that gutted a downtown commercial center.
But there's been another, much more positive trend during those five years: The Reformer Christmas Stocking annually has surpassed $90,000 in donations.
That may be due to the fact that the clothing drive for kids in need, now in its 76th year, is a highly regarded, well-oiled machine. But organizers say that doesn't mean they can rest on their laurels.
"We always hold our breath when we set our goal," said Joanne Corey, a Brattleboro resident and a member of the Stocking committee. "I wouldn't ever take it for granted."
Betty Elwell, the committee's chairwoman, puts it another way: "You never know if we'll reach our goal. But you know the need is going to be there."
The Stocking dates to 1937, when it started with a single donation to one girl. This year, more than 1,200 children in Windham County and in Hinsdale and Chesterfield, N.H., have received free outerwear such as coats, mittens, hats and boots.
It takes significant resources to keep such a program going, and organizers say the community has responded to that challenge by donating consistently.
Donations first topped $90,000 in 1999. In the 12 Stocking drives that followed, the $90,000 mark has been topped eight times.
This year's goal again has been set at $90,000. Through Friday, the program had collected more than $24,000, slightly ahead of last year's pace.
"All of the money we collect goes into buying the clothes and the boots," Corey said, adding that Stocking donations don't have to be large to be significant.
"We get all sizes of donations," she said. "People will give $1,000, and people give $5. It makes them a part of it."
However, it takes more than money to make each year's Christmas Stocking a success. Committee members use the word "community" in multiple ways: There is a "community" of organizers and volunteers who are serving a "community" of families in need.
Elwell thanked a sometimes-overlooked segment of that community -- the employees of schools and social-service agencies who refer families to the Stocking committee.
"Their plate is really full, and we have a short turnaround time to be able to get everything back in for the committee's review," she said.
There also are the volunteers, whom Elwell referred to as the "backbone" of the program when it comes time to connect kids with clothes.
"They're there for unpacking. They're there for distributing clothes," she said. "They're there for packing things back up."
The Stocking maintains a pool of about 100 volunteers, and committee members don't have to spend a lot of time recruiting, Elwell said.
"We always know that, when things get really, really tight, you have people you can call on," she said.
Of course, there also are the committee members themselves, many of whom have been involved in the Stocking effort for the long term.
"We all bring a gift to the committee, and we all are focused on the children," Elwell said.
Corey said that focus has kept her involved for about 14 years.
"The kids come in, and you see the looks on their faces when they see all the jackets and they can pick one that they want," she said. "It's just such a rewarding experience."
A Christmas Stocking donation form can be found in the Reformer daily. Forms can be sent to Reformer Christmas Stocking, P.O. Box 703, Brattleboro VT 05302-0703 or can be dropped off at the Reformer office at 62 Black Mountain Road from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
More information, including a link to donate via PayPal, is available at www.reformer.com.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.