2012 rang in more happily than it might have for many local families, thanks to the outpouring of compassion and generosity from local churches, organizations and private citizens during the holiday season just past.
Although Christmas 2011 is already a memory, people in and around the village of Cattaraugus will treasure remembrances made possible by living in a small town.
SANTA MAKES AN EARLY VISIT
Pat Gunsolus holds one of her favorites from among the hundreds of toys jamming the basement of Roberts Memorial Free Methodist Church after a work session during which she and other volunteers brought order out of the cheery chaos of donations. Roberts became the repository for toys gathered by all the area churches.
Cattaraugus Fire Department President Eileen Williams and Dollar General Manager Ron Purdy sit in front of a table full of toys, while Fire Department and Women’s Unit members stand ready to wrap during one of the Cheer Posse’s work sessions.
Just outside the Bank of Cattaraugus’ courtyard, Dancer enjoys a few pats from kids eager to make her acquaintance.
Santa’s First Responders are ready to head out on their Christmas mission. Back row, from left, are Linda Veith, Tracy Erhart, who helped organize Brooks Market’s contribution to the cause, Bruce Moody, not a first responder, but a committed volunteer, Jim Scott and Don Veith. Front row, from left, are Ken and Sandy Charles.
Local youth got their first glimpse of Santa Claus, when he visited the village on the afternoon of Dec. 16 and sat down in the Bank of Cattaraugus' courtyard for a few hours of serious toy talk.
A couple of Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School seniors served as overgrown elves, serving up hot cocoa and popcorn and directing tots to the bags of candy and treats awaiting them.
Dancer accompanied Santa again this year, acting the part of greeter out on the sidewalk in front of the bank.
Marc Pritchard photographed every child with Santa, and posted the prints for parents to pick up at Pritchard's Hardware across the way. Santa's early stop was sponsored by the Historic Cattaraugus Corporation and its contributors.
On the same day, across Main Street, the Cattaraugus Free Library held a Christmas Party, open to all. Children were greeted at the door with gifts - appropriately enough, books, acquired by the Friends of the Library.
Teddy bears went to children who needed them. Cupcakes and other refreshments were prepared by volunteers, some of whom directed child-oriented activities. Gail Mathies, assistant library director, assisted the children in tracing outlines of their hands on green paper, after which Heidi Nash helped them construct a Christmas tree from the handprints.
The tree now graces the library's front window. According to Kathy Parent, library director, 121 children took part in the festivities.
"I'd like to thank Colleen Young, of the Bank of Cattaraugus, for the cooperation on dates and times that enabled both our organizations to coordinate their Christmas events," she added.
THE CHEER POSSE
This year for the first time, the Cattaraugus Fire Department, with co-sponsorship from the local Dollar General, organized a toys-for-kids program.
According to department president, Eileen "Sis" Williams, "We wanted to get back into the giving part of Christmas."
Williams, who's logged 25 years in the department, said she was inspired by former teacher Laura Land, who, "when I was back in high school, taught us the gift of giving with her Heart Warmers program."
Williams said that the Women's Unit of the Fire Department pitched in whole-heartedly to assist with the project. During the weekend before, they turned out in force to donate, help purchase, and wrap the toys. They dubbed themselves "The Cheer Posse."
THE TOY DEPOT
With assistance from all the churches in town, and also Trading Post South, Roberts Memorial Free Methodist Church put together a huge toy program for local children. They called it "The Toy Depot," and by the week before Christmas, their church basement truly looked like Santa's warehouse, stuffed to overflowing with toys, toys and more toys.
According to Patricia Gunsolus, who dealt with the huge task of organizing all this 'stuff,' "The response from the community was truly overwhelming."
"I can hardly believe how generous people and businesses were," Gonsolus added. "Some brought in brand-new toys, while others donated money for us to buy them with."
At least 70 families, with 150 children, attended the Dec. 17 gathering at the church. First Santa Claus read "The Night Before Christmas," after which each child present received a ball, a stocking stuffed with goodies and a special gift from Santa Claus. Meanwhile, parents visited the downstairs "depot" where they could select three presents for each child in the family.
"I think we helped a lot of children have a merry Christmas," commented Mrs. Gonsolus.
Although a great deal of effort went into assuring a happy Christmas for the children, adults too, were considered.
SANTA'S FIRST RESPONDERS
Now in its fourth year, Santa's First Responders distributed free Christmas dinners to 15 local families. The effort was carried out by the Cattaraugus Area Ambulance Service and paid for through contributions, both large and small, from various residents and businesses, as well as from ambulance squad members themselves.
Brooks Market donated both time and groceries to the project. They even wrapped the boxes for delivery. Each completed box contained a ham, along with potatoes, yams, rolls, and other foodstuffs, including loaves of homemade banana bread baked by Edna Booth and bagged home-baked Christmas cookies baked by Suzanne Erhart and her sister, Merry Lankow.
In addition, a $50 gift certificate redeemable for groceries or gas at Brooks Market was tucked in each box.
According to the plan's organizer, Don Veith, this year's outpouring was so generous, that, "We were able to put a little nest egg in the bank toward next year's mission. It gives you a good feeling to know you'll be able to continue."