PLATTSBURGH - When Thanksgiving is over, many people's thoughts turn to Christmas, and it's no different for Alice E. Heckard.
Heckard, along with Tammy J. Perrotte, oversees The Christmas Bureau, and this is the time of year when the nonprofit organization really begins to pick up steam, said Heckard. The nonprofit organization begins organizing donations of toys, clothing and other gifts to distribute to low-income families in need at Christmastime. It's a tradition that's continued for more than 40 years.
"[The Christmas Bureau] was started by a small group of women from local churches in the 1960s, I believe, and it grew from there," explained Heckard. "They started by collecting food baskets then eventually started collecting used toys."
The operation grew over the years and even changed hands in coordination, Heckard said. Eventually, the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity of Clinton and Franklin Counties coordinated the distributions - which then began consisting of new toys - and did so for a number of years until The Christmas Bureau was officially created as its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
"It's more like a business now than ever," said Heckard. "And, it keeps getting better."
Heckard attributes the support of The Christmas Bureau to the generosity of people in the North Country, especially those behind an event known as "Santa Night." The annual event involves members of the community dressing in holiday style and visiting local restaurants and bars, serenading patrons with Christmas carols.
"Since they started doing this, every year it's grown and gotten better and better," said Heckard. "They started out by buying us toys to give to the families and now they give us a large amount of money each year. And, they still buy us toys and other things we need. It's amazing."
Christopher J. Huchro, a financial advisor with West Bay Financial Group, coordinates Santa Night each year and said he is also overwhelmed with the support Santa Night participants give year after year.
"We want to help the less fortunate and there's no simpler way than getting people on a bus and going to eight or nine places and singing - sometimes terribly - to raise money and bring attention to The Christmas Bureau," said Huchro.
Santa Night participants raise money to go caroling the second Friday each December, said Huchro, and collect any donations they receive that night to give to The Christmas Bureau.
"And, we're always recruiting more people to join us," said Huchro. "We never know how many people we're going to have."
Last year, roughly 40 people joined in on the Santa Night festivities, raising more than $23,000. This year's fundraising goal for Santa Night is $30,000, said Huchro.
"We're going to try really hard to make it," he said, adding it will take the participation of even more people this year.
"We need them to come out, even if they don't have the greatest singing voice," he said, laughing. "It's just a great time."
Heckard said by people getting into the spirit of the season, like with Santa Night, more and more families are helped every year. And, in a year following one of national economic decline, Heckard feels this year The Christmas Bureau will be needed more than ever.
"We helped 1,138 families last year and we already know that number's going to be up this year. We can already tell by the number of applications coming in," said Heckard. "I'm a little concerned this year our numbers are going to jump considerably and I'm hoping our donations aren't down. If they stay where they normally are, we'll be fine, but if they drop, we're going to be hurting."
Those interested in helping The Christmas Bureau may contact Heckard at 562-1253 or visit the organization's Web site at www.thechristmasbureau.org. For more information about participating in Santa Night - scheduled for the night of Dec. 11 - contact Huchro at 561-9674 or visit the Santa Night Web site at www.santanight.com/plattsburghny.
Those seeking assistance from The Christmas Bureau may fill out applications at the JCEO Outreach Center in their community. In the towns of Beekmantown, Mooers and Schuyler Falls, where no JCEO Outreach Center exists, applicants are asked to contact their respective town offices.
Those living in the city of Plattsburgh must call Linda Schneider for an appointment at 561-4209.
Eligible applicants must reside in Clinton County and have children living in their household age 16 or younger. Applicants must also meet income guidelines based on the size of their family. Social Security information and proof of income, if any, is also required for all who live in the applicant's household.
The deadline for applications is Wednesday, Dec. 9. For further information, call 562-1253.