In spite of a volatile economic climate and unprecedented instability in employment nationwide, a spirit of charitable giving and goodwill is alive and well again this holiday season in the Capital Region.
A variety of businesses, organizations and groups are already at work on projects that present opportunities to contribute money, time and talents to meet the needs of others less fortunate at holiday time as well as throughout the year.
SEFCU employees and members stand out as exceptions to the rule in an age when daily accounts of greed and self-focused living abound. Through employee-directed programs, they demonstrate their care and concern for the welfare of others by making a real difference through community-specific charitable giving. SEFCU President and CEO Michael Castellana says the 75-year-old company is “committed to running an outstanding financial institution. But more importantly, our founding principal is that we are people helping people. That is the mission of a credit union.”
Castellana praises SEFCU members and employees: “We are fortunate to have people who feel it is not all about them. We are never short of volunteers; it’s a labor of love. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. If people can’t contribute money, they can give time and talent, and the giving is all equal.”
Twenty-five percent of SEFCU’s net income benefits grants, sponsorships and special programs. Two of the ways the credit union does this is through the SEFCU Foundation and SEFCU’s Community Support Program.
The SEFCU Foundation is a 501C3 tax-deductible not-for-profit whose fundraising efforts impact a large, increasing demographic. Local organizations benefitting from SEFCU Foundation giving include: the American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Center for Disability Services, Double H Hole in the Woods Ranch, HopeClub, Hamilton Hill Community Arts Center, Hope House, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, National Kidney Foundation, Our Lady of Hope, Regional Food Bank, St. Anne Institute, Unity House, Vanderheyden Hall and YMCA/YWCA.
Committed volunteers and staff initiated a number of programs such as the Warm-A-Child Campaign and the Holiday Sharing Program. The SEFCU Foundation donates hats, gloves, mittens and scarves to elementary school children each fall to keep them warm during the cold winter months. SEFCU members can help by purchasing the sets in any SEFCU branch and the SEFCU Foundation distributes them. SEFCU employees support the Foundation by volunteering for events as well as contributing through bi-weekly payroll deduction. All money generated through payroll deduction directly benefits the work of the Foundation.
SEFCU’s Community Support Program works to develop legacy programs in the community. By supporting permanent projects that impact all ages, the Community Support Program has a much larger scope and provides assistance for thousands all year long as well as during the holidays. The Holiday Sharing Program in late November offers participating employees a chance to make a one-time payroll-deducted contribution to fund their Adopt A Family program and others. SEFCU employees fulfill wish lists of needy families, donating countless hours to shop, gift-wrap and deliver items personally.
“‘At SEFCU, it has been our experience that the time and energy spent volunteering is returned threefold in terms of morale, goodwill and the knowledge that we have helped make our communities better places to live,” said Castellana.
Winter coat drive
More opportunities to give are being supported this year at Snap Fitness in Gansevoort, located within the Diamond Plaza on Route 9, just north of Exit 17N of the Northway. Owner Tina Marzano and Club Member Support Rachel Varney organized a winter coat drive again this year to benefit the Salvation Army Community Center, located at 13 Chester St. in Glens Falls. The drive, which is in effect until the end of November, accepts donations of gently used warm coats for every member of the family that can be left in labeled boxes in the lobby of the state-of-the-art, 24/7 fitness center.
Marzano says that deciding to sponsor a coat drive had a practical origin. It began the first fall after Snap Fitness opened nearly three years ago. “We just completed a Fitness Challenge; participating members met their goals to shed pounds and tone up. Many discovered that it was also time to shed their old wardrobe, and with winter approaching we decided to collect coats in good condition.” The drive became an annual event around Thanksgiving.
Marzano and her staff work as hard at giving back to the community as they do helping members to achieve their personal fitness goals. Marzano has initiated ongoing member events that incorporate fitness and wellness with community service. Since October is designated as the month to raise awareness of both domestic violence and breast cancer, it’s full of charitable giving at the gym. Varney organized a three-mile member fundraising walk benefitting the American Cancer Society.
She comments: “People want to help, but are not comfortable canvassing door-to-door to raise money. It’s hard to find anyone whose life has not been affected by cancer. Ten members walked and it’s easy to donate online if they couldn’t make the walk.” Active in her support of Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County (DVRC), Marzano rallied members to help by donating used cellphones to the group so victims can call for help if threatened with abuse, and used toner cartridges were gathered to raise money for the safe house and other needs. She plans to continue incorporating the community service at her newest Snap Fitness location on Main Street in Clifton Park (Jonesville) expected to open in January.
Hope for pets
That month Marzano will celebrate her 50th birthday by initiating 50 days of HOPE at Snap Fitness. She asks that members consider donating to HOPE (Homes for Orphaned Pets Exist), which is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to assisting the Saratoga County Animal Shelter by adopting previously abandoned, orphaned and neglected animals being housed at the shelter. Marzano pledges to match contributions up to $5,000.
HOPE founder Wendy Mongillo could be said to be the equivalent of Mother Teresa to the domestic pet population of the Saratoga County region and beyond. More than eight years ago, she adopted a terrier mix she called Lucky at the Saratoga County Animal Shelter in Ballston Spa and her life was never the same again. That initial desire to provide a safe, loving home for a dog began what is now virtually a career of providing homes and advocating for cats and dogs, many of whom have been saved from sad fates.
Because HOPE does not have a shelter or facility, a network of volunteers provide foster homes for cats and dogs until a forever home is found through adoption clinics or visits. This Christmas season they will team with PetSmart at the Wilton retail location on Route 50 for Pet Photos with Santa Claws, on Dec. 18 and 19.
Plans are under way to build a low-cost spay and neuter clinic for cats and dogs in Wilton, the first of its kind in Saratoga County. Mongillo invites inquiries by veterinarians interested in part-time employment or donated service to contact her.
Parties interested in adoption must provide a reference from their vet if there are other animals in the house, and a visit to the home is scheduled. The fee for adoption is $75 for cats and $125 for dogs. Although most giving seems to be done without asking for a tax receipt for credit in the fourth fiscal quarter, Mongillo says they are available. Mongillo and HOPE volunteers operate continual fundraisers for the maintenance and veterinary care of the cat and dog adoptees that now come from many sources.
“Qualified seniors who often benefit enormously from the companionship of a pet can adopt older animals without a fee,” Mongillo said. “We find the older pets thrive in a quieter environment and the seniors do better with a pet that may not be as active as a young animal. Pets become family members and their presence over the holidays fills a tremendous need for all ages.”
In Fulton and Montgomery counties, the Fulmont Community Action Agency Inc. has several initiatives that help those in need, including holiday baskets and the Wheels For Work program. Agency Deputy Executive Director Ann Black says the agency sends cheer to needy families by distributing holiday baskets and offers tangible assistance through many programs throughout the year, such as Wheels For Work.
Coordinated by Beverly Ball, Wheels For Work is administered by the Community Services Department and serves Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties. It provides vehicles to eligible families to secure or maintain employment, promoting self-sufficiency. The program provides vehicle repair, registrations and licensing, life skill classes and defensive driving. Fulmont continually solicits tax-deductible vehicle donations from private individuals and businesses.
Services in Schoharie County are provided through a partnership with Fulmont Community Action Agency and Schoharie County Community Action Program. Recipients must work at least 22 hours a week, have a dependent child 18 or under or a custodial parent living in the home, and fall within poverty guidelines. Donations of vehicles in good condition with no more than 150,000 miles accrued can be accepted.
Shoes for the Shoeless
Another creative means of giving to others was born 15 years ago when Delmar Bootery owner Gail Leonardo Sundling was trying to find a use for shoes and footwear that had been dropped off for repair but never claimed. She and other members of the Shoe Service Institute of America (SSIA), the trade association for the shoe repair industry, found that through the American Red Cross, the Adventist Community Services would accept the gently used shoes as part of the clothing they provide through their disaster response services to assist individuals, families and communities affected by natural disasters and unforeseen tragedies. Shoes for the Shoeless was born, and has become an annual season giving drive at the Delmar Bootery located within Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany.
The collection of shoes has been opened to the public generally from mid September to Nov. 1 every year. “Over 100,000 pairs of high heels, boots and shoes and sneakers have been collected since we began,” Sundling said. “I want to express my appreciation to Stuyvesant Plaza management for providing space to sort and store the donated shoes, to store employees and volunteers, and to many area churches who get involved by making our job much easier.”
She credits the church groups with efficiently tying pairs of shoes and boots together and placing them in sealed boxes with a count of shoes inside written on top, making the delivery process easier. During recent years the donated footwear has been sent to Appalachian states, which have has long struggled with poverty. A member of the Lions Club from that region, Albert O’Neil, drives up personally at his own expense to pick up the enormous quantity of donations every year in time for the holidays and winter weather. “Schools in the Ballston Spa area get involved by using the bundling of shoes as a math lesson; people are very generous.”
Contact information on featured giving programs:
-- SEFCU: Any branch location or online at www.sefcu.com
-- Tina Marzano, Snap Fitness Chief Wellness Officer-Owner: 792-0039 (Gansevoort facility); E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
-- HOPE Founder Wendy Mongillo: P.O. Box 2497, Wilton, NY 12831; Telephone: 428-2994 Email: Info@HopeAnimalRescue.org
-- Fulmont Community Action Agency Inc. Inquiries should be directed to specific area offices:
Fonda office, Park Street, 853-8351; Amsterdam office, Riverfront Center, 842-0790; Gloversville office, Church Street 725-7110; Fort Plain office, Main Street 993-3230; Northville office, North Third Street, 863-2177
-- Shoes for the Shoeless: Gail Leonardo Sundling, owner, Delmar Bootery, 438-1717