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Annual Christmas Clearinghouse program gives food, toys to needy families

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Holiday cheer and welcome relief were given to hundreds of families Friday during the Watertown Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Clearinghouse distribution day.

Lt. Summer Hough said 477 families signed up for the program, which was about 70 more than last year.

“My hope for them this Christmas is that they’re able to experience relief,” Lt. Hough said. “It’s stressful worrying about what to do for Christmas. I want them to be able to enjoy their families and that they understand their community is here to support them.”

Nonprofits, food pantries and churches help organize the Christmas Clearinghouse program, and the toy component is overseen by the Community Action Planning Council of Jefferson County Inc. Clothes and toys were specific to each child’s size and/or interest, from tags community members selected from the Angel Tree at Salmon Run Mall earlier this month.

Distribution of toys and baskets of food took place at many locations throughout Jefferson County last week. For many families, the Christmas Clearinghouse is the only way children are able to unwrap presents Christmas morning.

Last year, 2,497 children received gifts and 747 households received food throughout Jefferson County. This year’s food baskets included either a turkey or a ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, butter, Jell-O, whipped topping, bread, canned fruit, canned vegetables, cereal and a certificate for a gallon of milk from Great American.

Krysten Moore, Watertown, said the program will be a lifesaver for her family this year. She said she and her boyfriend between them have seven children to buy presents for.

“I did this last year, and we were surprised,” she said. “It helps out a lot.”

Shonda Roberts, Watertown, said her children’s school sent home information about the Christmas Clearinghouse. Having four children at home makes it difficult to purchase gifts for all of them, she said.

“This helps me give my kids something I can’t,” Ms. Roberts said.

While the distribution day wasn’t scheduled to begin until 9 a.m. Friday, Lt. Hough said people began lining up outside at least an hour before that. Some recipients even walked to and from the 723 State St. agency in the rain and snow without any coats.

Lt. Hough said some single people applied to the program for help with food. A family of 11, including nine children, was the largest group that benefited from the program.

About 20 volunteers stayed throughout the day to make the distribution process smooth.

Lt. Hough said that while many people donated food, the Salvation Army also had to buy many items. To alleviate pressure on the agency next year, a “Christmas in July” food drive is planned to collect nonperishable items for the 2013 Christmas Clearinghouse.

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