“As a parent with two pre-teen kids, it’s heartbreaking to think that there are parents right in this community that are struggling and may not be able to give their children the kind of Christmas that they deserve,” said Brian Keenan, co-owner along with Craig Gioia of McGillicuddy’s restaurant on Main Street. So a tradition was started, some ten years ago, of collecting a list of names from Family of New Paltz; of local kids from families in need and a few of the things they’d like to have Santa bring to them if only there were funds to do so.
“I had talked to Kathy [Cartagena, director at Family] and we knew all the good things that Family of New Paltz was doing,” said Keenan. “We asked if there was something we could do as a group. The first year, she gave us a couple of names and we had so many employees that wanted to give the kids something on their list that they ended up getting about ten gifts each. So Kathy realized that she could service a lot more families, and it went from there.”
Now every year when the staff at McGillicuddy’s gets together for their annual holiday party, they celebrate by choosing names from the current list of local kids from struggling families and buying them gifts.
“I’m always blown away by how much the whole staff gets behind this,” Keenan said. “A lot of them are struggling to pay their own bills and put themselves through school, and yet I’ve never had a person who didn’t want to be involved in this; it’s incredible.”
Brian Raughter is the general manager of McGillicuddy’s. “We can’t say enough good things about our staff,” he said. “We have people who used to work for us that don’t even come to the party and they’ll still show up with gifts. Even if there are no kids’ names left [on the list], they’ll bring gifts for us to bring to Family to allocate to other children in the area. And it feels good to know this is going directly into our community; we buy a gift for a specific child and we know that that child lives right in our neighborhood and will have a gift to open on Christmas morning.”
The kids request all kinds of toys, Raughter said, from the classics — Mr. Potato Head, Sponge Bob or Ninja Turtles — to whatever the latest favorite is. “Frozen was this year’s ‘in’ thing; a lot of girls asked for Frozen dolls. Whatever’s hot; remote control cars are popular. Family also puts something on their “needed” list as well; I believe some of our staff bought things like pajamas, coats, hats and gloves, as well.”
But as proud as they are of their staff, said Keenan, their story is not about self-promotion. “That’s not the message that I want to put out there,” he said. “You know, this is great to be able to do something small and make a really big difference to someone right in the community once a year, but these families need assistance year-round. Kathy at Family of New Paltz works tirelessly to help as many families as she can, but this is not something that just happens around the holidays.”
It’s easier to think about when people are in the gift-giving spirit, he adds, “but it reminds us that these families are here and need assistance all year.”