The generosity shines through

Gwen Chamberlain
Volunteers like Jane Snyder and Eleanor Parker make sure each visitor receives food items before they leave the center.

If you’ve ever doubted that old saying, ‘Tis better to give than to receive,’ there is a small army of folks in the Penn Yan area who can help you understand the concept.

Some of them spend hundreds of hours throughout the year, seeking donations, collecting and sorting gift items, and organizing toys, games, books, underwear, jeans, pajamas, socks, sneakers and sports items. Others knit, crochet and sew in their spare time so others can feel a little warmth through the coming cold winter.

Still others lug frozen turkeys, tons of squash, cabbage, potatoes and apples, and others lend a helping hand as a mother without enough spare cash to go around or a father who was laid off from work wind their way through a maze of tables groaning under the weight of absolutely free items.

And if you’ve ever wondered if difficult times really do bring out the best in people, think about this: More volunteers than ever before turned out to share in the 2008 Christmas for the Needy distribution last week.

Walking into the U.S. Army Reserve Center on Cornwell Street in Penn Yan during a Christmas for the Needy distribution day, your first thought might be that it’s a chaotic mob. But it’s exactly the opposite. More than 300 families (surprisingly, fewer than last year) visited the center last Thursday to fill grocery carts with gifts and food that will make their holiday much brighter.

Volunteers help them navigate through the building, picking out items like necessities such as socks, underwear, shirts, pants, mittens, hats, personal care items, a new toy or gift card, stuffed animal, board games, puzzles, books, coloring books, crayons and quilts.

On the way out, the visitors pass through a food distribution area, where a box of food items, including either a ham or turkey, is put on the top of their cart. And all along the way, they hear and repeat the same message, “Merry Christmas!”

The community support for the program and a counterpart Food for the Needy continues to be strong, and more donations were received in a year when the number of families needing assistance declined, according to Milly Bloomquist, the long-time organizer of the program.

“I’m thrilled,” said Joyce Veil, the volunteer coordinator. “Our community —Penn Yan — is so marvelous,” she said.

The volunteer escorts who helped people work their way through the maze of tables heard several stories as the day wore on, but the underlying theme is one of gratitude.

“There are people here who don’t think they’ll ever need to be here,” said one volunteer, describing a man who recently had a cut in income because he was injured and unable to work.

Volunteer Michele Covert says this was her first experience at the Christmas for the Needy. “Oh my God,” she said, describing the experience. “I guess it’s nice to see how it works. It’s fun and very organized and everybody is very grateful,” she adds.

Keeping a close eye on the whole process, Bloomquist, the driving force behind the program for more than 25 years and the area’s Food for the Needy as well, takes it all in and comments, “Everything is going very well. There are lots of volunteers and everybody is coming at a steady pace.”

And the giving went on as a couple of young men from Mark’s Pizzeria delivered a complimentary pizza for the volunteer crew. It’s just another holiday season in Penn Yan.

Michele Covert, volunteering at Christmas for the Needy said she was impressed by the organization of the event. She ensured visitors each received the proper size pants.