July 18, 2019

The spirit of giving is spreading to a storefront Down East

MACHIAS – The Maine Sea Coast Mission’s annual Christmas gift distribution program to Washington County families in need is finding that receiving help from others increases the giving.

The past dozen years people dropped off gifts at the mission’s stately waterfront mansion in Bar Harbor where they were wrapped in the mission’s traditional white paper with red string.

While a cherished leader in helping Washington County families, the Sea Coast Mission this time has more than a dozen partners.

This year people from many Down East groups will gather and distribute gifts to six hundred families. Churches, groups, businesses and other organizations are working together in a first-year collaboration called the Community Christmas Giving Tree.

Children will no longer receive presents in the mission trademark white and red wrapping, which immediately gave away where it came from.

Children whose families are known to area churches and other groups will now get their gifts through the Christmas Giving Tree in a less-revealing manner.

The collaboration has the full support of the Sea Coast Mission, which gives more than 3,000 Christmas gifts each year, although not all within Washington County.

The newly formed Christmas Giving Tree has its own identity and space, occupying a transformed Main Street storefront in the same building as J.R.’s Pizza.

Helen Vose of the Centre Street Congregational Church in Machias and the Rev. Betty Palmer, who represents the Down East Methodist churches, are coordinating the new Machias-based effort.

Spreading holiday cheer and gifts to those who have little at Christmas isn’t new. In fact, the Mission’s ship, the Sunbeam, has been visiting Down East coastal towns since 1905, leaving wrapped presents for children at Christmas.

But a problem developed.

Different groups started spreading the same goodwill. Recently, uncoordinated charitable efforts at Christmas overlapped.

That’s now a thing of Christmas past. But each group’s limited resources remains a part of Christmas present. That’s why the collaborative effort is needed to serve more families this year.

“We felt that there needed to be more community involved with Christmas,” Palmer said Thursday. “We want to increase the sharing.”

The Christmas Giving Tree storefront will be open between Nov. 26 and Dec. 21. Volunteers will welcome those who wish to leave donations or new, unwrapped gifts and those who want to place their children’s names on the list to receive wrapped gifts.

Gifts may include toys, clothing, personal care items and things useful for adults as well as children. Gifts will go to adults with special needs and the elderly.

Tea, coffee and holiday goodies will be available.

Supporting the Christmas Giving Tree are the Whitneyville Congregational Church, Families United, We Care, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the Washington Hancock Community Agency, the former Cutler naval installation and the Machias Savings Bank.

Having a single place as a center for Christmas giving makes sense, Palmer said.

“We want to serve those on the margins of our many communities,” she said. “We want everyone in Washington County to be more aware of their neighbors. Everybody has a place to come to here, whether they are giving or receiving.”

For information or to join the collaboration, contact Helen Vose at 255-6665 or the Rev. Betty Palmer at 255-4043. Contributions may be sent to the Community Christmas Giving Tree, Centre Street Congregational Church, P.O. Box 265, Machias 04654.

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