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Project Christmas Nurtures School-Community Connection

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Program Provides Food and Gifts for More
than 50 Families

By Mary Fox

Project Christmas has been providing an “extra touch” at Christmastime for many families of the Ellicottville Central School District since 1967, when it began as a project of the Future Nurses Club headed up by school nurse Betty Westfall.

“The “partnership” between the school and community provides gifts and food for more than 50 families in the Ellicottville School District.

“One year runs into the next,” said ECS nurse’s aide, Jennifer Hasper, when asked about Project Christmas. “We have been doing it for so long, it has become a big part of the school year. I’ve been involved for a long time and I just love helping families and kids.”

“It’s all confidential,” explained Hasper. “No one knows who the families are or what kids are receiving gifts. Even the Project Christmas committee members remain anonymous.”

Individual gifts for family members can be purchased by selecting a tag from a Christmas tree located at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Holy Name of Mary RC Church, the Ellicottville Pharmacy, M&T Bank, Five Star Bank or the school.

All tags have a family number and indicate whether the children are boys or girls, along with their ages and clothing sizes. Wrapped gifts can be placed under one of these Christmas trees, and they will be picked up by ECS students by the 15th of December, the last day gifts can be turned in for sorting.

Gifts and food will be distributed on Dec. 19 by junior and senior high students.

A member of the Project Christmas community, ECS school nurse Kimberly Watt said, “It amazes me to see how the community comes together for Project Christmas. It’s a wonderful way to help those in need in our community.”

Tags are still available, but if you would like to donate and find that all the tags are gone, you can purchase a present and mark it boy or girl with age and size, where appropriate, and place it under any of the Christmas trees listed above. You can also donate money. Between $5,000–$6,000 is spent annually on project Christmas through the generous support of local organizations, as well as local and seasonal residents.

Suggested gifts for younger children include clothing (sizes are marked on the tags) and, of course, toys. Older students like clothing, too, but best of all are gift cards for just about anything.

Members of the ECS Student Council shop for gifts using monetary donations for children whose tags are not taken so that every child on the list gets a present.

It is a whole-school project, with each student having an opportunity to participate by bringing nonperishable food items or placing mittens on the mitten tree for the families and senior citizens.

Each family also receives a turkey and other perishable food items as well as a box of unperishable items donated by the students or purchased with money donated to Project Christmas.

In more recent years, more than 60 senior citizens have been added to the list of those receiving Christmas “thinking of you” food and gift boxes. Poinsettias are given to residents of the Machias, Salamanca and Olean nursing homes.

Project Christmas has seen incredible growth from its humble beginnings, when Betty Westfall and her girls put out the word for donations of gifts for 15 students. A tiny room in the school basement (then the 1887 Building) served to collect used toys, which were repaired and painted by the agriculture department. Used clothing was cleaned and repaired by the home economics department, which also made clothing for dolls.

“The positive feedback from recipients and the tremendous support of the community has brought the community and school together in a very positive way,” said one of the committee members.

Check donations can be made out to Project Christmas and mailed to Ellicottville Central School, Attn: Kim Watt, Ellicottville Central School, 5873 Route 219, Ellicottville, NY 14741.

If you have any questions regarding the program please call Kim Watt at (716) 699 2318.

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