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Warm The Children

Warm the Children launches fundraiser

GREENFIELD — For more than 25 years, children throughout Franklin County have been warmed each winter by the generosity of strangers — and this year was no different.

The Recorder’s annual Warm the Children clothing drive served 1,067 children this year, according to Killeen Perras, who is a community coordinator at the Community Action anti-poverty agency and the person who finds the children who need help by contacting social service agencies, schools and churches throughout the county.

Perras, who has been working with Warm the Children for about seven years, said this year she received hundreds of referrals — many with more than one child in the family — which she then turned over to Wilson’s Department Store, the third partner in the yearly campaign, so that clothes could be purchased in the correct sizes.

According to Patricia Maleno, business manager at The Recorder, the newspaper began the program locally more than a quarter-century ago and has handled the fundraising aspect of the yearly campaign since. In the early years it also handled the purchasing and distribution, which Wilson’s now handles.

Recorder Advertising Director Rich Fahey said the goal has always been to serve at least 1,000 children. He said most, if not all years, that goal has been met.

“The nice part is everything that is raised stays in the community,” said Fahey. “And, unfortunately, the need gets greater each year.”

Wilson’s coordinates the volunteers and buys all of the clothing with the money raised, said coordinator Debbie Daly.

When the campaign ends and all of the clothes, including warm winter coats, pajamas, hats, mittens and snow pants, have been handed out, the local department store boxes up anything that’s left and sends it to The Recorder to be stored until the following year.

Perras said she sent out requests to 53 agencies, schools and churches this year, including those in the Athol-Orange area.

“They all sent me a list of their most needy,” said Perras.

“Usually the fundraising goes through January,” said Kelsey Klerowski, Recorder administrative assistant, who also collects the money raised for the campaign.

Klerowski said The Recorder starts advertising Warm the Children in the fall and the money it collects between September and January, along with whatever else trickles in throughout the year, is used to buy clothes the following year.

“We receive most this time of year, when it’s starting to get cold and people are thinking about it,” she said as she held up a stack of unopened envelopes addressed to Warm the Children.

Perras said by the end of July each year The Recorder contacts her to tell her how much has been raised and how many children can be served.

The most needy children are then chosen and their families are contacted.

Wilson’s is also contacted and given money to purchase the clothes — each child will receive underwear, snow pants, a winter coat, pajamas, a hat and mittens, and socks.

“The kids have their winter clothes by the end of September,” said Perras. “They used to be given out around Thanksgiving, but everyone decided that it made more sense to give them out earlier, just in case it got cold early.”

With the help of 40 to 50 volunteers, clothes are handed out over three days. This year, they were distributed at the Franklin County Fairgrounds.

“We have everyone on a list, so we check them off as they walk in and give them each a big box, and a volunteer takes each family through to collect the items,” said Perras. “We already know every child’s size — and the items are checked off their list as they go.”

At the end, each child’s clothes are placed in a large bag and Perras collects the data for later.

Perras said this year’s event went smoothly and everyone got what was needed.

Daly said there have been times when families have returned unused items the following year so that someone else could use them.

“Maybe their child outgrew them before they could wear them and they didn’t want them to go to waste,” said Daly. “Everyone is so good.”

Perras said there are always at least a few tears of joy as parents watch their children receive the very basics, which they wouldn’t have if not for the community’s help.

Klerowski said it isn’t just money that people donate, but hats and mittens. She said The Recorder receives many handmade items each year.

Daly said this year someone dropped off 100 knitted and crocheted blankets.

“We’ve never seen that before,” said Daly.

Recorder Controller Jeff Morse said that last year The Recorder raised $75,000 and spent about the same in September. He said the money is always raised the year before, starting in September, and spent the following year.

The Recorder runs advertisements for Warm the Children beginning this time of year to start fundraising for the following year.

Recorder Publisher Dennis Skoglund said the newspaper is happy and proud to take part in keeping its future readers warm.

“It’s our way of giving back to the community and taking care of its children to make sure they are warm and safe,” said Skoglund.

“It’s always amazes me that even in this economy there is such generosity,” said Skoglund. “People really need this.”

Fahey said The Recorder doesn’t just talk the talk, but walks the walk on the golf course each year.

“In the spring, the sheriff holds a golf tournament to benefit Warm the Children and it’s the biggest fundraiser, bringing in $7,000,” he said. “Both Dennis and I participate.”

Fahey said other groups, organizations and individuals hold fundraisers throughout the year.

“This is a wonderful, caring program,” said Daly. “Why would you not want to be a part of it? You just have to see the kids’ faces when they put on their coats.”

To donate to Warm the Children, send a check to: Warm the Children, c/o The Recorder, P.O. Box 1367, Greenfield, MA 01302. New clothing may also be dropped off at The Recorder, 14 Hope St. any time during the year.

If you have stories to tell about Warm The Children or plan fundraisers, let us know. Call 772-0261, ext 280 or write to afritz@recorder.com.

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