The City of Albany and has spent the previous eight years bringing joy to the citizens of Albany and Clinton County around the holidays with its “Christmas at Home Toy and Food Drive.”
For many of the area’a less fortunate residents, the joy is in the form of receiving much needed food, clothing and children’s toys and gifts.
However, for many, many others, the joy comes in the form of donating to the program – either by giving the items that will ultimately be distributed, or by volunteering to held with the collection, preparation or distribution process.
This year will make the ninth year Albany Mayor Nicky Smith has headed the program to supply children and families with food, clothing and Christmas gifts.
Last year, Smith said they had enough donations for 400 kids and more than 200 families and he is expecting they will reach that many again this year.
“We are somewhat down a little right now, but I think it will pick up this week. We have to get in the spirit. We have Christmas music playing outside and everything,” Smith said. “Churches have started bringing in food and stuff this week.”
“We average around 400 kids each year and from the looks of it, we will see that many, maybe even more,” Pam Allred said.
Allred, owner of local radio station WANY and an employee of the City of Albany, has been working with the program since its inception eight years ago.
Smith said one of the biggest concerns about doing the food and toy drive is running short.
“We always worry about running out of donations. We could always use more donations,” Smith said. “
The Albany city employees are one of the biggest reasons so many gifts and food gets delivered each year. Smith said they enjoy spreading joy to the county.
“They volunteer to help out and the employees look forward to it,” Smith said. “They enjoy it. There is an enjoyment of giving I think. They like helping others. Nine years is a long time and you can’t do it without the citizens chipping in. I would like to thank everybody who has helped us and participated. Pam and all the girls do a good job. They sort and wrap all the gifts. The kids like to unwrap the presents. That’s the good thing about living in a small county … I think people are more generous with their time and care more about others in a small town.”
Volunteers try to get everything wrapped and delivered before Christmas, but Allred said some even give their time on Christmas Eve to deliver items to families if they couldn’t be reached earlier in the week.
“We try to get everything delivered before Christmas, but sometimes we get some last minute names and people come in and help deliver on Christmas Eve,” Allred said.
Allred said the deadline for this year’s program is set for Friday, December 14, in order for the volunteers to be able to get all the toys wrapped and delivered by December 21.
“We would like to have all the items delivered by the 21st,” Allred said. “All of the city departments, as well as some of the county departments help. We also have individual citizens who volunteer to come in and gift wrap the presents.”
Allred said the city gets the names from confidential sources, churches, and people in the community who know where there is a need for a program like this.
“I’d say 90 percent of the names we get are from people who give us recommendations,” Allred said.
Allred and Smith both agree the program has grown every year for the past eight years and both agree there is a need for this program in the county.
“A lot of the families that we take presents too, that’s all they get which is very surprising,” Allred said. “Some of the people have been recently laid off of work or have become sick and are out of work, and they can’t get any federal assistance. Even if they are getting food stamps, they are not getting any cash. Sometimes there will be families that we didn’t even know had a problem and people call at the last minute.”
With the start of the program eight years ago, Allred said she didn’t have any idea there was such a need for this kind of help.
Now, several programs exist in the county to help those in need. Allred said she has even received calls from people outside the county for assistance because surrounding counties don’t have a program designed to help less fortunate families.
“We’ve had people from surrounding counties call us and want to get something like this started,” Allred said. “When we first started, people didn’t think there would be any need for this in a county our size, but now, it has grown and now there have been families who were on our list a few years ago and are now back to work and in good shape. They have contributed back to the program and donated toys. They have told us that if it hadn’t been for us doing this program, their family wouldn’t have received anything for Christmas.”
“It’s real good to see the kids’ eyes light up when they unwrap their gifts,” Smith said.
Being a part of a small town is something to take pride in and looking out for the people in the community is what makes a small community strong.
“I like the way everybody works together,” Smith said. “WANY helps, churches help … it gets the community involved and it is a community thing.”