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Gift Tree has another successful year at new location

by kwindus
Wed, Dec 16th 2020 10:00 am

by Kate Sager, Olean Times Herald, Dec. 11, 2020

For the past several months, Gift Tree coordinator Megan Davis has been concerned with how she would set up alternative plans for Thursday's drop-off of gifts if there had been a snow storm or shut-down from the pandemic.

As it turned out, there were no weather issues or shutdowns to prohibit the drop-offs of gifts for 107 families that took place at the former Allegany High School, or Fourth and Maple Complex, in the renovated cafeteria space called "The Hill."

"I had been thinking about what to do since last spring if there was another shutdown" due to the pandemic, Davis said early Thursday. "We would have had adapted and overcome it, but luckily we didn't have to use (alternative) plans and we were able to do the regular schedule."

Davis said her usual helpers, who included volunteers Leslie Wind, Cheryl Depledge and Amelia Tallman, who played Christmas Carols, were all available.

"Usually the after-work time is the peak time for delivery," Davis added. "It's usually not as many people (with drop-offs) in the morning, but throughout the day we get people trickling in."

She said the new location at the complex provided a comfortable, cozy setting with a gas-burning fireplace and Christmas tree. The program location was changed from the former site at the Robert H. Livingston Community Center in Allegany as it had been previously used for COVID-19 testing for Cattaraugus County residents. 

The Gift Tree program, co-sponsored by Davis, executive director of Interfaith Caregivers, and the Olean Times herald, has provided gifts to needy families in the county for more than 20 years. Families on the Gift Tree list are identified by human service agencies and schools, and adopted by individuals, businesses, groups and churches, who purchase and wrap the gifts. 

Groups that stepped forward to help included the Olean Fire Department and City of Olean employees, among others. In addition, the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation and the Carroll and Dolores Anstaett Gift Tree Fund donated over $1,200 in Olean Chamber of Commerce Gift Certificates that were distributed randomly in a portion of Gift Tree family packages. 

Individuals who donated included Kathy and Chad Elser, and their daughter Rachel Elser, of Allegany. The family not only purchased gifts for families, but also served as volunteer shoppers.

"It's so much fun," Rachel Elser said of the shopping. "We got some good deals and stretched (the dollars) as far as possible."

Kathy Elser added, "I have to say my kids have probably had a nice Christmas every Christmas their entire lives, so if we can do something to help somebody who is having a tough time, how can you -- especially this year."

Also contributing to Gift Tree was Bonnie Yaw, who dropped off quilts handmade by women in her quilting group at St. John's Lutheran Church in Allegany. Yaw said the group makes the quilts to give to the elderly or babies who are Gift Tree recipients. 

"We have been doing this many years," Yaw said of the quilting group. "We hope they'll go to somebody who will treat them well."

Linda Huff and Connie Dutton of the City of Olean pulled up to the building with a load of gifts purchased by employees with the city.

Huff said she and Dutton, was well as fellow employee Amber LaRue, organized the group to purchase gifts for 10 children in the Gift Tree program.

"We've been doing this about six years," Huff said when returning to the vehicle to grab another armload of gifts. "It's a good feeling."