Donations were uniformly up for this year’s Christmas Give Away at the H.C. Smith Benefit Club, which provides food, clothing, toys and household items to families from several Montgomery County towns and villages each December.
The Christmas Give Away annually invites individuals and families from St. Johnsville — the event’s home-base — Fort Plain, Nelliston, Canajoharie, Palatine Bridge and Oppenheim-Ephratah to partake, with attendees receiving a bag to fill with clothing and another for toys.
“More stuff was donated this year,” said H.C. Smith Benefit Club Vice President Don Morey, explaining that donations were up not only in terms of items, but also funding. He explained that on top of the heaping piles of food, toys, clothing and random items ready to be given out early Sunday morning, the club was able to host a variety of significant raffles.
Twelve new bikes were raffled off, with six having been donated by individuals, the other six being donated by the club. While a selection of bikes are raffled off by the club on an annual basis, this year’s raffle opportunities were more expansive, with the club making available a set of new dishes, a homemade shelf, five turkeys, bags of new school supplies, a bubblegum machine, a foosball table and homemade lawn ornaments.
Each attendee was provided with an opportunity to win raffle items.
Much food was donated this year, with the club also purchasing a large supply of extra items. Every family in attendance Sunday received ham, hot cocoa, oatmeal, stuffing, cranberry sauce, a pack of rolls, yams, spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, potatoes, and two kinds of vegetables.
Attendees — especially larger families — also received additional items, including noodles, ravioli, soup and cake mix.
With no events held at the H.C. Smith Benefit Club this year because of COVID-19, Morey was able to start filling the facility’s dining room with donated items two weeks prior to Sunday. Three community members — club member Joan Morey, and associate members Lydia Ponte and Char Dingman — annually sort the donations. This year, they spent four hours per day across four days to ready items for Sunday’s giveaway.
“They do a tremendous job,” said Morey of the work the women put in.
Because of COVID-19, the process by which individuals were able to collect items this year was altered, with only 10 being allowed in at a time, guests being separated as they entered. Instead of having 20 minutes to fill up bags, the time limit was lowered to 15 minutes in an attempt to keep attendees continually moving through.
In the end, “Everybody was great. Nobody complained. Everybody wore their mask like they were supposed to and used hand sanitizer,” Morey said.
Some 110 families attended this year’s giveaway, with Morey pointing out that though that number was slightly down from 2019’s 137 guest families, club members were satisfied with the turnout, as they had no idea what to expect with COVID-19 numbers going up throughout the area.
Leftover items that won’t expire until well after Christmas 2021 were saved for next year’s event, with food expiring before then being donated to the Helping Hands Food Pantry in St. Johnsville’s D.H. Robbins building. Leftover clothing and toys are annually donated to the Valley Alliance Church in Nelliston, which regularly hosts free clothing giveaways.
“I just want to thank everybody that helped out today,” said an appreciative Morey, noting of those involved with the giveaway, “It’s pretty much been the same people for the last however-many-years, and we all work well together.”
“I love doing it,” Morey said, explaining that his favorite part of the yearly event is, “giving the toys out to the kids and helping whoever I can.”