The Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department is again asking the community for donations to the Santa Sheriff's Program.
In its eighth year, the program is looking to raise another $5,000, which it has done in the past, to help provide a Christmas celebration to families throughout the community who would not be able to afford it, said Deputy Brian Keis, program director.
"As in past years, we are doing a fund drive to help raise monies to help families throughout the county that are a little tight for cash in order to provide for their children to have a wonderful Christmas," he said.
Letters were sent to area businesses to seek local support.
Keis said the money is used to purchase gifts for the families, as well as household items that are needed.
"We don't just do the children, we purchase gifts for the parents also," he said. "We do it by household. There may be a mother, father, boyfriend, girlfriend, children, mother-in-law, grandmother or somebody who lives in the house. Everybody who lives in that house that comes into the program we purchase gifts for."
The program also supplies household items, such as laundry detergent and other needs as well as a turkey and a 5-pound sack of potatoes for a Christmas dinner, he said.
Keis said the program was started in 2004, and sponsored five families.
"It was started back in 2004, and each year it has progressively grown," he said. "When the program started, it started with just five families, in the last two years, we had 17 families and 26 last year, and you can see that is a huge jump over the years."
Keis hopes to sponsor the same number of families this year, if not more.
"We anticipate if funds are heavy enough and available, to push it again this year, hopefully to 30 families," he said.
Families are recommended to the program by other community programs as well as other members of the community who might know someone who needs help during the holidays.
"We will get with those families, see what the family make up is, the age of children and such, and see what they would put on a wish list," he said. "We take the funds and determine how much we can spend on each family member and then we go out and buy all the gifts."
The items are purchased at the Olean Wal-Mart and youths from Salamanca Middle School and other county agencies wrap them for delivery.
Wal-Mart has also been a "huge supporter" with monetary donations, as well as donating the turkeys, he said.
Agencies throughout the county, such as the Department of Social Services and the Cattaraugus County Community Action raise funds and provide the program with family names of those they feel could use help.
Area schools are also heavily involved, he said.
"We have the Salamanca Middle School raising funds," he said. "The students there have become a big part of this, trying to raise money within the school. The also put together baskets to donate to the families. We also have the Little Valley-Cattaraugus Schools involved, and they do dress-down days and such in order to raise money to help contribute."
The Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Association and the Supervisors Unit also donate to the program. Keis said he has received several donations from area businesses and private citizens as well.
Keis said the program was modeled on a similar program in Texas.
"Our current sheriff, Timothy Whitcomb, started this program back in 2004, after a program he had seen in Texas, modeled somewhat after the Toys for Tots setting and he put his own swing on it," he said.
At that time, said Keis, Whitcomb and his brother who worked for the Juvenile Detention Center in Limestone teamed up to help provide incarcerated juveniles with a purpose.
"What the intention was is to get the kids who were placed in the detention facility, give them some purpose, and have them involved in going out and have them deliver as 'elves' to deliver packages with Santa," he said.
"Originally we used to do this program with the officers of Children and Family Services Detention Facilities," he said in a previous interview. "Both of them have since closed. They way it used to work was, we used to take the youths that were incarcerated and allow them to go to Wal-Mart supervised and shop for the underprivileged families and then come with us when we delivers them. We don't have those facilities anymore so we don't have incarcerated youths benefiting from this program. But the program was such a good program that we didn't want to see it go away, so we continued to accept donations and we continue to work with local businesses to secure donations."
The Sheriff's Office is asking members of the private sector and public merchants to make monetary donations to help this cause. Those who are interested can also donate items such as children's toys and household items. Donations can be made by contacting Sheriff Whitcomb at 938-9191, ext. 2247 or Deputy Keis at 938-9191, ext. 2899. Checks can be sent directly to the Sheriff's Office with "Santa Sheriff's: on the memo line.