BRATTLEBORO -- The Yuletide season is one of community involvement and giving, and a particular charity in town has serving Windham County's youngsters with holiday spirit for 76 years.
The Reformer Christmas Stocking, which operates out of the basement of GPI Construction on Canal Street, is a local program dedicated to providing winter clothing to children up to 15 years old, and it runs on volunteerism and monetary donations from the public.
Money pours in throughout the year, but especially around the holidays. The stocking, open for a few weeks every year, offers coats, boots, hats and mittens, as well as snowpants for younger children, suited for the snow and cold temperatures to Windham County children and has for its entire history dealt with new and unused clothing.
Betty Elwell, the Stocking's chairwoman since the 1990s, said volunteers many years ago would take individual families out shopping for new winter apparel until they realized there had to be a easier and more cost-effective way to fill the need that was getting greater. The charity has hopped around to a few different locations over the decades but still provides the same service.
"To my knowledge, we have always purchased new," she said. "Families really do appreciate it. They also know if they get something and a zipper breaks or something like that, or they get it home and something's wrong, we'll replace that."
Elwell said new clothes last longer and make the children feel special.
"This would be the same if you were able to go to a consignment store, to be able to pick out something that you really want and really need," she said. "And to be treated with respect -- at the Stocking, you're really treated with respect."
The items line the walls of the divided basement and take up room in the two aisles. When a family comes in, a volunteer greets them and brings them around to hold what they need.
Forms of eligibility go out to area schools, the WIC Food Program and social services agencies, which then dispense them to students/clients. Families fill out the forms and send them back to where they got them, before they are brought to the Reformer Christmas Stocking Committee. The committee then decides who is eligible and sends out letters with individual appointment dates and times.
Reformer staff member Pat Smith said whenever a family misses an appointment, which happens fairly often, a new one is made.
Attire is purchased from various stores stretching from Brattleboro to Keene, N.H., to Lee, Mass. Elwell said Missy Galanes is in charge of buying the clothes where prices are considered fair.
Elwell said all the volunteer work is worth it when you the look in a child's eye when they get the winter clothing they need.
"You really know it's appreciated," she said. "What we get back is far greater than what we give."
This year's goal is set at $90,000. All donations go toward purchasing warm clothing for area children and will be listed daily in the Reformer as requested by the donor. A form can be found in the newspaper each day and more information can be found online at Reformer.com.
All contributions, which are tax-deductible, and the form can be sent to: Reformer Christmas Stocking, P.O. Box 703, Brattleboro, VT 05302-0703.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.