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Helping others makes spirits bright

SCHUYLER COUNTY—Think of the classic images of a holiday season—the festive meal, rosy, plump-cheeked faces gathered around a blazing fire, stacks of presents waiting to be opened. For many area residents, the expected high cost of fuel is making this a chillier holiday season. Some kitchen tables will hold a lot less food, and many area children will have fewer presents to open. It’s one thing to voluntarily choose leaner fare, to lower the thermostat and opt for a lighter approach to gift-giving—entirely different when finances take away the choices.
Schuyler Outreach Director Nancy Brand says she’s seen a 10 percent rise in the number of food pantry clients in the last month alone.
“People are hungry,” she says. “At Head Start, children are eating twice as much on Monday morning than on Thursdays and Fridays.” And when she attended a statewide nutrition consortium, many of her colleagues reported that children visiting the nurse’s office with tummy-aches at schools around the state are often actually suffering hunger pangs.
“People are concerned about how they’re going to pay for heat,” she says. “If you can supplement food at some of the food pantries you can save for heat.” The food pantry in Schuyler offers more than just food —Brand has also had a successful winter coat giveaway, with a second scheduled for Dec. 16. In addition to what Schuyler Outreach can offer to families, it’s also possible to get free food from mobile food trucks from the Food Bank of the Southern Tier. And for those in serious need, there is emergency assistance available for rent, heat and medical bills.
“If we can help, we do… if we can’t, we refer to other agencies,” she says.
Schuyler Outreach always welcomes donations of food; this year there’s a greater need than ever for protein foods like canned tuna and peanut butter. Money is also very welcome, enabling Outreach to purchase foods at much-lower-than-supermarket cost, through the southern Tier Food Bank.
Because those in more fortunate circumstances enjoy their own holidays more when they know their neighbors also have something to celebrate, a group of Schuyler County businessmen began Seneca Santa in the 1940s. Dedicated to providing underprivileged Schuyler County children with Christmas presents, including a warm hat and mitten set, toys and snacks, the organization has grown.
Last year, Seneca Santa President Peggy Scott says the organization served 356 children; this year, the numbers are slightly lower, though applications are still trickling in. Each child receives a hat and mitten set, a wrapped main gift, toothbrushes and toothpaste donated by local dentists Dr. Schultz and Dr. Fitzgerald; a disposable camera, a stuffed animal, a plastic sled, a book, art supplies and some Christmas snacks.
Throughout the year, crafters knit and crochet the mitten sets, super shoppers find bargains on toys and purchase them for donation, and funds are raised for this program. And some of those who come help pack presents or contribute in other ways are former Seneca Santa recipients who are still grateful for the gifts of holiday spirit when they still believed in Santa Claus.
Saturday, Dec. 13, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards will dedicate the afternoon for their 12th annual Seneca Santa fund-raiser. This ticketed event features celebrity bar-tenders and chefs, live auction and Chinese auction, music and a special appearance by the Red Cat.
“We’ve gotten a wonderful response from the business community,” says Brad Phillips of Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. Despite the tough times, “We are finding that businesses are still reaching out,” he says, speaking of the generous donations of prizes. The event begins at 1 p.m. Dec. 13, admission is $10 per person at the door. Each attendee over 21 will receive a souvenir Seneca Santa wineglass. For more information, call 607-546-WINE.
“The people of Schuyler County are the most generous people,” Scott says. “They’re not wealthy, but they’d take the last dollar in their pockets to help someone else.”

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