Saugerties Area Council of Churches helps provide donated money for holiday gifts

Pastor Jennifer Bendelius and Amanda Buckman, the chair of the toy drive. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

For poor families unable to provide the abundance of gifts under the tree for their children, Christmas can be a stressful time. The Saugerties Area Council of Churches helps ease the burden by providing donated money for holiday gifts.

In prior years, the council collected toys and money for toys, said Rev. Jennifer Bendelius. The group sought new toys, games and other large gifts for kids. 

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This year, the council will be taking only cash, as the pandemic may not allow for gift-buying or having parents come in to pick gifts out in the weeks just before Christmas. Should the community be locked down in the period just before Christmas, the donations will be used to buy gift certificates that can be used by the families to buy gifts.

At a recent SaugertiesTown Board meeting, councilwoman Leeanne Thornton read a letter from Pastor Jennifer Bendelius and Amanda Buckman, the chair of the toy drive. “Our hope and prayer is to be able to have a physical toy store at the Saugerties Reform Church,” the letter states, “ This will be done by turning our financial contribution into toys a week before the toy store opens.” In a lockdown the donations would be sent as gift cards, the letter states.

This is the 29 th year that the gift program has been in operation, Bendelius said. Last year it provided gifts to 260 children from 93 families.

Buckman’s mother was one of the group of women who started the toy store, she said, so she is carrying on a family tradition in a way. The group was inspired by a Unicef [United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund] program. This year is her second as chairman of the program; Pastor Bendelius chaired it for a time before.

While most of the referrals of families that need help with gifts at Christmas come from school nurses, Bendelius refers some through the church. Other area pastors may also recommend families that need help, Buckman said. Parents come in to choose the large presents for their children at a cost of 25 cents per item. Also donated are winter coats, blankets and small gifts for stocking stuffers, she said.

“People are very appreciative; some parents actually cry,” Buckman said. The children, of course, do not accompany their parents; the gifts are from them. Wrapping paper and decorations for the packages are also provided.

 Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of appointment hours will be extended. The store, housed in the Reformed Church, will open on a Friday and a Saturday near Christmas time, Buckman said. 

Donations should be sent to the Saugerties Area Council of Churches, P.O. Box 723, Saugerties, NY 12477. The memo line on the check should state “Christmas toy store.”

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