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Lewis County Christmas Sharing program incorporated under food pantry

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LOWVILLE — The Lewis County Christmas Sharing program this year has formalized its structure to improve organization and sustainability.

“Every year, it’s gotten bigger and bigger and bigger,” said James M. Freeman, the program’s coordinator and founder.

The program, which annually distributes food and gifts to needy families in the county, is now incorporated under the auspices of the Lowville Food Pantry. It has been registered with the state under the “Christmas Sharing Holiday Assistance” moniker.

“It’s getting a little more organized,” said Daniel N. Taylor, CEO of the Lowville Food Pantry, which has federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

The change also offers improved “succession planning” as pioneers and stalwarts of the program look to take on reduced roles, said Scott P. Mathys, Lewis County Opportunities Inc. CEO and a member of the local Christmas Sharing committee.

Mr. Freeman said he and the late James F. Manzer started the program in 1980 as an offshoot of a Lowville Elks Christmas charities initiative, with the intent of better coordinating local efforts by churches, agencies and organizations to assist the needy during the Christmas holiday season. Jolynne R. Brinkley from Lewis County Opportunities joined the effort in 1983 and provided coordination for the program until stepping down from that role after last year’s drive.

Ten to 15 boxes were handed out in the first Christmas program more than three decades ago, Mr. Freeman said.

In 2011, more than 1,250 children received Christmas items through the program, and more than 700 food boxes were distributed to county residents.

“It helps a lot of families,” Mr. Taylor said. “Some of them, I know, wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for Christmas Sharing.”

With that level of growth, it made sense to move toward a formal organization with more oversight and accountability, Mr. Freeman said.

In past years, donations of food, gifts and money were collected separately.

Under the new structure, all Christmas Sharing donations will be accepted in one place: the Lowville Food Pantry at 7646 Forest Ave.

“Donations can be tax deductible,” Mr. Taylor said, noting checks should be made out to “Lewis County Christmas Sharing.”

“It’s a community effort,” Mr. Mathys said. “A lot of businesses and individuals donate each year.”

Program organizers have been very appreciative of the past assistance and hope for continued support under the new organization, he said.

Those wishing to volunteer are asked to call the pantry at 376-7431.

Many people choose to help with the program year after year, Mr. Freeman said. “It’s a labor of love,” he said. “You get hooked on it.”

Food and gifts are to be distributed to families Dec. 18.

Families with children will go to the Lowville Elks Lodge on Shady Avenue, while those without children will go to the Opportunity Knocks Thrift Store in the Crystal View building on Route 812 in New Bremen.

Those looking to be added to the distribution list are asked to call Opportunities at 376-8202, Ext. 221.

Christmas Sharing is available only to families living in Lewis County, and other eligibility criteria may apply.

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