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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Westport elves making 116 lists, checking them twice, to grant holiday wishes

Updated 4:22 pm, Tuesday, December 10, 2013

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  • Kathy Lehn, a volunteer with the town's Holiday Giving Program, looks over items donated for Christmas gifts for needy children, families and seniors. Photo: Anne M. Amato / Westport News
    Kathy Lehn, a volunteer with the town's Holiday Giving Program, looks over items donated for Christmas gifts for needy children, families and seniors. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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Santa's elves -- actually, two dedicated volunteers who help organize donations for the town's Holiday Giving Program -- were busy Monday at Toquet Hall where dozens of packages have already been dropped off.

It was the first day the volunteers began collecting the donations from area schools, businesses, organizations, churches and individuals. "We've gotten donations from every school in town," said Kathy Lehn, volunteer. "This is really a great start."

This year, the program will help 116 local families, or a total of about 400 people in need, according to Patty Haberstroh, the Human Services Department's family program coordinator. That department sponsors the Holiday Giving Program every year.

She said applicants for help fill out a form where they list the name of each person the family. Once that is filled out, the top portion of the application, which lists names, addresses and other personal information, is cut off for privacy reasons, and the application is assigned a number for the rest of its processing, she said.

Each member of the family gets a chance to fill out a wish list and can indicate what type of gift, or gift card, they would like to receive.

Monday, she showed two big bags already filled with gift cards for distribution through the program.

She said recipients are always grateful for the help, pointing to a list of thank-you notes from those who received help last year.

"Last Christmas was a particularly rough one for myself and my family," one person wrote. "The generosity of the community helped to make Christmas for my children special," the note added. "I am so moved by the service the town provides and by the community that supports it."

"I went from not being able to buy my kids gifts to being able to give them a wonderful Christmas," another wrote. "It was a huge deal. I cried on my way home because I was so happy after receiving the help that I did."

"Christmas is always a time of great stress for me as a mom of limited means and I just want you to know how much I appreciate being able to put gifts under the tree on Christmas morning," wrote another.

Back at Toquet Hall, Lehn, and fellow volunteer Madeline Saxon Meyer were sorting through large plastic bags stuffed with wrapped presents. A number of toys and games were also being organized, as were racks of new clothing donated by town residents. "Look at this," said Lehn pulling out a new full length parka. "This must cost about $200."

She also pointed to a couch where Peanuts and Dr. Seuss stuffed animals and books were lined up. "A hedge fund donated them," she said. Nearby were dozens of gifts from local school children. "They wrapped them themselves and put notes on them," she said.

"You know it always works out," Haberstroh said about fulfilling the wishes of those seeking help through the program. "We had a family of seven in need that requested help," she said. "Within two hours someone called and said they wanted to help a family of seven."

Donations are still being accepted and residents and organizations that want to donate can contact Haberstroh at hsyouth@westportct.gov or at 203-341-1069. Also, families who feel they will need extra support during the holiday season can contract the Human Services Department at 203-341-1050.