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Gift drive at Black River Valley Club nets 450 toys for needy children

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Filling up about one-third of the Black River Valley Club’s floor space, about 450 toys for needy children were donated at the Children’s Gift & Fund Drive Thursday.

More than 400 people showed up during the 19th annual gift drive hosted by Bernier, Carr & Associates to make donations and offer gifts that will be distributed to 40 nonprofit groups across Jefferson County, said Kelly E. Reinhardt, director of business development at the Watertown engineering firm on Mullin Street.

“It was one of the best ones we’ve ever had, and it was packed,” she said. “We think it was a record year. Everyone who comes tells us it’s a kickoff to the holiday season.”

On Friday organizers still were tallying the donations, Ms. Reinhardt said. Collectively, over $300,000 in toys and monetary contributions have been made over the past 19 years.

The gift drive sets itself apart from other community efforts, she said, because it is able to provide far-reaching assistance to smaller agencies and groups that otherwise could be overlooked. Monetary donations are used to purchase gift cards at Salmon Run Mall for families who wish to buy gifts that weren’t donated. In that respect, its mission has a different focus than the Salvation Army’s.

“Generally, some of the larger agencies in Watertown are popular venues for donations because they’re well-known and easy,” Ms. Reinhardt said. “But what we do is give to some of the smaller agencies, such as a group in the basement of a church that maybe has a few families it takes care of each year.”

Those who attended were asked to bring along two unwrapped gifts for a boy and girl. Though a recommended price wasn’t given, many of the gifts were worth more than $50 this year to brighten the holiday season for children in needy families, said Kathleen E. Carr, whose husband, Paul G., originally started the toy drive in 1994 as an informal community effort at the engineering and architectural firm. Mr. Carr, a founding partner, was chief executive officer of the firm at the time.

“Early on, the gifts were maybe $25 and under, but now people are bringing mega-gifts like dollhouses and trucks,” Mrs. Carr said. “I brought in a Batman gift and Clip-Clop Pony toy, which is one of the popular gifts.”

The gift drive now lures in hundreds of business professionals from the community: business owners, professors, doctors, lawyers, accountants, bankers and brokers. She said it kindles a holiday spirit in the community as one of the first citywide events of the Christmas season.

“It’s grown and grown and grown over the years, and people love it and find it very moving,” Mrs. Carr said. “It means a lot to me and my husband.”

The following nonprofit groups will benefit from the drive: Alexandria Bay Council of Churches ■ Alexandria Bay Food Pantry & Community Thrift Store ■ Antwerp Food Pantry ■ Cape Vincent Community Food Pantry ■ Catholic Charities, Watertown ■ Chaumont Area Food Pantry ■ Children’s Home of Jefferson County ■ Clayton Council of Churches & Food Pantry ■ Clayton Improvement Association ■ Community Action Planning Council ■ Credo Community Center ■ Croghan Food Pantry ■ Deacons of UPC of Sackets Harbor, Hounsfield “Jubilee Shop” & St. Andrews Catholic Church Food Pantry ■ Depauville Food Pantry ■ Dexter Presbyterian Deacons ■ Dexter United Methodist Church ■ Evans Mills Food Pantry ■ Faith Fellowship Church Food Pantry ■ Good Samaritan Society of St. James Church ■ Indian River Baptist Church Food Pantry ■ Jefferson County Department of Social Services, Foster Care and Adoption Unit ■ Jefferson Rehabilitation Center ■ Lewis County Opportunities, Network of Food Pantries ■ Lowville Food Pantry & Christmas Sharing Program ■ Ministries of the North Country ■ North Country Family Health Center, The Children’s Clinic ■ Rhode Center, Food Pantry ■ Samaritan Keep Home ■ Samaritan Summit Village, Assisted Living & Skilled Care Units ■ South Jefferson Ecumenical Council of Churches ■ SoZo Teen Center ■ Town of Orleans Council of Churches & Redwood Food Pantry ■ Orleans Outreach Christmas Program & Gwen’s Food Pantry, LaFargeville ■ The Country Manor Nursing Home ■ The Salvation Army Food Pantry ■ Theresa Food Pantry ■ Victims Assistance Center ■ Village Ecumenical Ministries Food Pantry of Carthage ■ Watertown Urban Mission Food Pantry.

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