Holiday gifts for children in need

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This story was updated on Dec. 11.

BENNINGTON — Olivia Surdam and several fellow high school students spent about two hours shopping at Walmart on Sunday. They came away with bags of toys, clothes, shoes for dozens of children whose families can't afford to buy holiday presents.

The students went shopping on behalf of donors to Spirit of Sharing, an annual outreach by the Catamount Rotary Club and the Department for Children and Family's Agency of Human Services in Bennington.

Surdam, a senior at Mount Anthony Union High School, has helped out with the program three of her four years in high school. Spirit of Sharing was the reason she joined Interact, a Rotary-sponsored school club that offers students opportunities to do service projects — such as the Walmart outing on Sunday.

"Growing up, we couldn't afford a bunch of presents," Surdam, 18, said. "I could relate to the families in a way, and I just wanted to give back."

This year, 428 children from 215 families all over Bennington County have requested holiday gifts through the program. It's back for the sixth consecutive year, and this is its biggest group of recipients so far.

"It's grown every year incrementally," said Beth Sausville, DCF's Bennington district director.

Requesting holiday gifts

Parents or caretakers of children from birth to age 14 sign up to receive gifts. Local agencies that work with children and families, such as the hospital and day care centers, also submit applications for their clients.

The children are then matched with individual or group donors, who will buy presents for them. Donors can ask to shop for a specific age group or gender, but most choose to shop for any child in need, Sausville said.

Donors receive the children's "wish list," which includes their age, gender, favorite color, clothing size and shoe size. The children's names are not divulged.

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The children aren't guaranteed to receive the items on their list, but the suggestions help donors come up with personalized gifts. The presents are given to DCF, which distribute them before Christmas.

The organizers ask that donors spend $40 to $50 on brand-new gifts for each child. They can also buy presents for the child's family, such as grocery gift cards, a family pack of movie tickets, restaurant gift cards, family games or gift certificates to local stores.

They suggest writing on the back of gift cards in permanent marker: "Not for tobacco or alcohol," which stores will honor.

Ways to give

Jenica McEvoy, a Rotary Club member acting as liaison for Spirit of Sharing, says participating businesses can donate money instead of gifts. Rotary — with the assistance of Interact members — will do the gift shopping or use the money to buy gift cards for the families.

"There were some families I had to go online shopping for, because they asked for very specific toys," McEvoy said.

Businesses that have donated include Bennington Subaru, which gave $2,500, SVMC ($500) and Adecco ($400).

As of Monday, the program had already attracted 110 donors, but 30 children were still waiting for matches, Sausville said. She is confident all the children will receive presents since past experience has shown "even at the 11th hour the community has risen to the need."

Folks who would like to donate should contact the organizers as soon as possible. Email Sausville at beth.sausville@vermont.gov or visit the Spirit of Sharing Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BenningtonSoSharing/.

Gifts can be brought to the DCF Family Services Department on the third floor of the state office building at 200 Veterans Memorial Drive. Drop-off times are Monday through Friday, 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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