Photo Gallery | Brattleboro Chamber's Special Recognition Awards
BRATTLEBORO — A front page headline on Dec. 11, 1937, announced the start of a new fundraiser that turned into a storied tradition.
"'Reformer to publish pleas for funds to aid destitute children.' The accompanying story explained that the newspaper will ask the people of southeastern Vermont to do what they can to lessen the suffering of destitute children in this territory, said Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce Board President Vickie Case during the group's annual breakfast on Thursday, where the Reformer Christmas Stocking Board was named the 2015 Person of the Year.
The goal of raising $300 was quickly met, she said, with members of the community providing any increment they could. By 1967, more than $74,000 had been collected. The focus eventually changed to making sure area children had the warm clothing they needed for winter and the tradition continued for 78 years with more than $3 million contributed to the cause.
The efforts grew to a point where the two volunteer co-directors needed help, so Brattleboro Professional and Business Women's Club took over the task of shopping and distributing the clothing, explained Case, noting that "No one could have ever imagined how complex the effort really would become." Home deliveries were eventually replaced by a "store-like showroom" in the basement of GPI Construction. Kids could come pick out their own gloves, boots, hats and jackets.
"Over the last 10 years alone, more than 13,000 children were fitted with warm clothing. The $300 goal in 1937 had grown to $50,000 in 1992, $75,000 in 2003 and $90,000 in 2008," said Case. "The early organizers described the effort as an act of faith because the clothes were bought on faith that enough people would open their hearts and pocketbooks to pay for the necessary items."
The Christmas Stocking Board made the hard decision to wrap up the program after distribution in November 2015. Talking to the Reformer in March when the decision was made, committee member Missy Galenes had described their efforts not as work but "A labor of love, knowing what the end result would bring." Former Reformer News Clerk Pat Smith said the Christmas Stocking outgrew itself and she likened its end to losing an old friend.
"Personally, as one of the newbies of this board, I've been really humbled and honored to work with such amazing folks," said Elly Majonen, the last of many committee chairwoman, during the chamber breakfast where she was joined by several others who served as board members in the past.
The United Way of Windham County has created a similar program called Kids in Coats and donations are currently being accepted. Names, donation amounts and regular updates will still appear in the Reformer.
WKVT was named the chamber's 2015 Corporate Citizen of the Year. The radio station has operated since 1959, airing talk radio segments, music and information. Radio personality Peter "Fish" Case, who began there over 20 years ago, said he knew from the start that the media outlet could be used for good.
Over $50,000 was raised for the Red Cross in response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11 when the station set up a remote in front of Brattleboro Savings & Loan for an entire week. The station organized and hosted the first ever on-air forum on opiates that "opened up a timely and relevant discussion on drug use in the area," said Chamber Executive Director Kate O'Connor, and it played a huge role in covering Tropical Storm Irene and the aftermath. The Legislature applauded WKVT with a resolution, stating "They responded to the emergency in comprehensive, creative and helpful ways." The station also was honored by the American Cancer Society, Wounded Warrior Project and the United Way.
When the chamber was searching for a new event to bring visitors in, O'Connor said WKVT "came through and brought the bacon literally," with the creation of Brattleboro Baconfest. A holiday event called the Jingle Bell Jog was another event the station assisted in establishing.
"(WKVT) exemplifies what it means to be a true community partner. They take pride in the service they do for their community. For the last five years, our Corporate Citizen has filled the seats at the Latchis (Theatre) and the opera house at Bellows Falls with thousands of bags of food for our neighbors in need. They have raised tens of thousands of dollars and have donated countless volunteer hours supporting local nonprofits," said O'Connor. "In short, this organization is always ready to roll up its sleeves, to lend a helping hand, to get the job done."
Recommendations for the awards are suggested through letters to the chamber throughout the year. The awards have been around for over five decades, said O'Connor.