Reformer Christmas Stocking to change, but mission remains the same

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BRATTLEBORO >> The United Way of Windham County on Wednesday, Nov. 26, formally announced the launch of its Kids in Coats Fund to support winter gear for Windham County kids.

In the spirit of the Reformer Christmas Stocking, and with deep appreciation for its board, donors, and volunteers, United Way is asking the community to support families in Windham County through this new fund.

"We are developing this new fund with input from families, social service providers, schools, and former Stocking board members and volunteers. Our goal is to provide a much-needed resource to families to ensure that children are warm and well-protected from the cold and snow next winter," said Carmen Derby, executive director of UWWC. "All donations to the fund are welcome and appreciated. We are grateful to the Reformer for its support of this new effort, as well as to our other media partners for their help in spreading the word. Together, we can keep kids warm."

United Way of Windham County seeks to raise $75,000 to support the purchase of winter gear for Windham County families with children age newborn through grade 6. Eligible families will apply for assistance through established referral sources, such as schools, health and human service organizations, and state offices. All funds raised will directly benefit eligible children with winter gear.

Donations can be made by texting "toasty" to 41444, or by mailing a check made out to UWWC to PO Box 617, Brattleboro, VT 05302 with "coats" in the memo line. Donations can also be dropped off at the Brattleboro Reformer office at 62 Black Mountain Road or the United Way office at 1 Holstein Place, both in Brattleboro.

UWWC has established a committee to explore winter gear distribution options and decide on a model that best serves families. Any community member who is interested in assisting is welcome to join. Contact Sue Graff, director of community investments, at 802-257-4011, ext. 113, or sue@unitedwaywindham.org.

Complete details on the application and distribution process will be shared by next fall.

On Nov. 17, the board of the Reformer Christmas Stocking held one of its last meetings. According to the meeting notes, 1,267 children received new winter clothing. The Stocking started 78 years ago with 15 to 20 volunteers managing the program each year.

Clothing was purchased by board member Missy Galanes with storage area provided by most recently by GPI Construction.

"The decision to stop the Stocking was a hard one to make," said former Reformer news clerk and Stocking board member Patricia Smith. "All the reasons to stop kept piling up against it continuing, but the reality to make it happen just wasn't there anymore. It had outgrown itself."

That sentiment was echoed by several other board members.

"(The Reformer Christmas Stocking) has grown every year and to a point where it has become unsustainable for us to continue," said Susan Greenbaum, a board member who has been involved with the group for almost 40 years. "The Stocking has helped and inspired. ... The work of this committee has been nothing short of spectacular. We have seen many happy children and grateful parents over many years. It takes a village to raise a child and that is what it has taken to outfit all the children in winter outer wear."

In just the past 30 years, the Stocking has raised more than $2 million, of which 100 percent went directly toward the purchasing inventory.

Last spring, when the board held several special meetings to brainstorm ideas of how to keep up with the changing world, talk shifted to the future. It became clear that, due to several areas of high concern — including applications and distribution to acquiring goods and soliciting donations — the Christmas Stocking, as it currently functions, would be unable to continue.

"We all have heavy hearts that we cannot continue to serve the growing number of those in need with the program we have in place currently," Galanes said. "I don't believe the committee ever looked at what we did as work. It was a labor of love, knowing what the end result would bring. The memories I will take forward are those of smiling faces and knowing we did a very small part in providing warmth for those in need of a helping hand."

In its final year, the Christmas Stocking raised more than $90,000 in donations from the community.


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