Reformer Christmas Stocking to end: Future of outfitting kids in need

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BRATTLEBORO — The board handling the Reformer Christmas Stocking will dissolve after handing out this winter's coats, boots, mittens and hats to children in need.

For now, the future of outfitting those kids is up in the air.

"There's been lots of comments that have come our way. A lot of nice things have been said about the years and years of work that the committee has done," said Elly Majonen, chairwoman. "Folks have asked us how anyone can take it over."

A meeting Tuesday was called as an attempt at getting people together to talk about how the program was run and how those efforts could perhaps continue in some shape or form.

The program has run for 78 years. Anywhere from 15 to 20 people sat on the all-volunteer board, Majonen said. Donations came in through the Reformer office. The newspaper also supplied the nonprofit with insurance. Board members sifted through applications to see who was eligible based on income and agency referrals.

When asked for input on Wednesday, Reformer CEO and Publisher Ed Woods said, "The Reformer has been involved in this community effort for over three quarters of a century. It is my intention to continue the Reformer Christmas Stocking well into the future, and I'm looking forward to collaborating with other agencies in greater Brattleboro to find the right way to do so."

Clothing was purchased by board member Missy Galanes. GPI Construction had given free space to store it all and for distribution days. The facility was considered family friendly. All distribution took place over a week or so in November. Families were given a time when their kids would be taken around the facility that resembled a store. Kids aged infant to 15 could pick out items.

Last year's goal of $90,000 was met in February, and then it was surpassed. Getting to the goal has become tougher and tougher, board members agreed. In years past, they had seen the dollar amount reached before Christmas.

"Those donations were key to everything we did," said Majonen. "I can say 99.9 to 100 percent of the money raised went towards purchasing all of the clothing items we supplied to the kids."

No formula exists for purchasing, according to Galanes. Boxes of coats in a particular size would be bought through companies "throwing in a random variety" of designs. An overflow of clothing was needed as sizes could fluctuate. Some years saw more babies.

"This year is especially tough because we're trying to figure out what we need. We can't dip into next year's money because there is none. I thought this year would be easy but it's been very difficult," said Galanes, who says supplying the outskirts of Brattleboro has made the effort impossible. "We served the area that the Reformer serves, most of Windham County and Hinsdale (N.H.), Chesterfield (N.H.), up to Bellows Falls."

Galanes advocated for letting the program rest for a year. She does not see a crisis coming from such a break.

"I think the need will show itself more clearly in what areas and what you are responsible for," Galanes said. "I don't think it's crucial to raise the money this year. We've just become too big and too far-reaching. And it's got to pull back."

Questions regarding space, scope, insurance, privacy and which populations to serve will undoubtedly come up if a program was developed to resemble the Stocking. Distribution could occur in a number of locations through smaller groups.

Groundworks Collaborative Assistant Director Rhianna Kendrick suggested the possibility of using a voucher system. That could eliminate some challenges with storage and distribution.

"It's well worth the trouble but it is kind of delicate to find out who to give an application to," said Arlene Hanson, who worked in public education and submitted applications.

Meeting attendees spoke of similar charity programs. Potential involvement or assistance from the United Way, Vermont Food Bank, Stratton Foundation and Northeastern Family Institute were also mentioned.

"I'm here to learn and consider what we might do," said Sue Graff, director of community investments at United Way of Windham County. "I want to hear what the group is thinking about and what is possible. And I'm absolutely open to being in any conversation that's about how to continue this on in some way."

Proceeding with public relations is another matter on the table. Previously, the Reformer ran names and messages of those who donated on a daily basis. Series of articles about the Stocking ran close to and during distribution, highlighting how it works. Published also were updates regarding fundraising goals.

The public trusted the Stocking, Galanes said. It was not soliciting or placing tin cans around communities.

"I'm here to see what my paper can do to help because in my time in journalism, I have never been associated with a newspaper charity that was as efficient, as pure of heart and as wonderful as the Stocking," said Randy Holhut, deputy editor at the Commons. "It was truly a first class act for so many years."

There was no way his newspaper could begin to take the Stocking over, he said, but his board could consider publicity and other assistance. They are also a nonprofit.

The conversation will continue Friday, Oct. 2, at 10 a.m. at the United Way office in Brattleboro at 1 Holstein Place.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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