November 21, 2012

Down year for gift donations to Maine Children's Home For Little Wanderers

Donations are 'really down,' especially for kids between 8 and 12, program organizer says

Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers gift box donations down

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- The impact of Superstorm Sandy and slower-than-usual donations have left the Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers scrambling for support as it assembles Christmas boxes for more than 1,600 children throughout Maine.

click image to enlarge

Christen Sawyer, the Christmas program director at Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers in Waterville, prepares Christmas gift boxes for children in need in the central Maine region.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

The home's Christmas program is headquartered on Silver Street, where hundreds of volunteers work year-round to gather toys, books and clothing for pre-teen children.

For 60 years, the volunteers have assembled thousands of items that will match the kids who need them.

Every child is supposed to receive an outfit, pajamas, a small toy, a large toy, two books, a coloring book and a hat and mitten set.

Barbie dolls, building blocks, dolls, dinosaurs, dump trucks, temporary tattoos and hula hoops line the shelves at the headquarters. Each family also gets a board game from a selection that includes Bingo, Monopoly, Topple, Dabble and Scrabble.

Every year, rented trucks loaded with boxes meet families at the Waterville and Augusta armories to distribute the Christmas boxes.

This year, however, the shelves have open space. Many of the storage bins that would ordinarily hold clothing are empty.

The program's account executive, Greg Glynn, said donations are "really down," especially for kids between 8 and 12.

Without the items, the normally busy packing schedule is stalled, according to Cristen Sawyer, the program's director.

On Wednesday, Sawyer said about 900 boxes have been packed, but even those are not complete because they are still missing items.

With a Dec. 7 donation deadline approaching quickly, she said is concerned that boxes will have to be sent out incomplete. She hopes that Black Friday shoppers will come through with a last-minute surge of support.

She said she wasn't sure why donations are not on pace with previous years but that Hurricane Sandy has worsened the situation.

"The effects of Sandy have been far-reaching," she said. "We think they'll be long-term."

She said she knew of at least one family that signed up for help after they were displaced to Maine following the fire in Queens, N.Y., caused by superstorm Sandy that burned more than 50 homes.

The larger impact has been the loss of support from Kids in Distressed Situations, a program based in New York City that has helped by providing support in the form of toys and clothing.

"They've been physically affected by the hurricane," and they've also needed to put all of their resources into their local areas, where so many people are seriously affected," Sawyer said.

The home also lost help from the Cuddle Me Diaper Bank, a New Jersey-based program that distributes diapers and wipes to teen parents.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287


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