By JENNIFER MESCHINELLI
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The night before the Clinton County Christmas Bureau kicked off for the season, veteran volunteer Tina Leclerc was ready to go.
“I can’t wait each year to get started,” she said Monday evening. “I’ll be busy every day for the next month, but it’s only a month, and it’s really so much fun.”
Leclerc, who always works behind the scenes for the agency that makes Christmas happen for many, many needy families and senior citizens, has charge of distribution center, located again this year in the former Checkerhill Farms building on Boynton Avenue.
They call her “head elf,” according to Tammy Perrotte Sears, who co-directs the Christmas Bureau with Alice Heckard.
It is Leclerc’s job to organize the center, make sure orders are filled and keep track of when they need to be ready, to name just a few responsibilities. She has volunteered with the agency for about 15 years.
“It really takes a lot to make this happen, but we have volunteers that have been doing this for many years,” she said. “They all really know what needs to be done, and they just take over when we start setting up.
“After all these years, it’s just routine.”
And, Leclerc said, the volunteers have jobs now that they are good at, which makes things run smoothly. A smooth operation allows the them to focus on what they love most about pitching in — helping low-income families have a wonderful Christmas.
The Christmas Bureau “elves” have spent the past few days getting their space ready to start accepting toys for the 1,100 families they assist.
The storage unit has been cleaned out, brought to the temporary location, and this week it will be organized.
On Tuesday, Clinton County Jail inmates helped ready the distribution center.
“The building was being prepared for demolition, so we were lucky we could have it for one more year,” Sears said.
CAN GET HECTIC
As it is every year, the biggest needs are gifts for older children and teens.
“Teenagers are hard to get stuff for,” Leclerc said. “Sports equipment is also always needed. It’s easy to pick up a nice scarf for a girl, but boys’ gifts aren’t as glamorous.”
She believes all the children should have their own new book for Christmas. And craft projects and helmets are also big needs as well.
Youngsters are recipients of gifts, but givers as well.
“It’s so wonderful to see parents come in with their kids to donate toys,” Leclerc said. “It’s so cute to see the kids do this.”
But in the end, there isn’t a lot about the effort that she doesn’t enjoy — no matter how busy it gets.
“It’s hectic at times, but you remember you are doing it to help someone out.”
The second week of December is the busiest because it’s shopping week. And while the volunteers are putting the orders together, donations are still coming in, and then the towns are starting to come in to pick up piles of presents for the families who applied for them through the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity (JCEO).
But Leclerc stays on task.
“I am kinda organized,” she said. “You really have to be or it would drive you crazy.”
HOW TO APPLY/HELP
The deadline to apply for Christmas Bureau assistance is Dec. 7.
Families in the City of Plattsburgh who were served last year can call 420-2600; those in the city who are new to the program should go to the distribution center at the corner of Boynton Avenue and Veterans Lane between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. starting Nov. 27.
Residents of Clinton County who live outside the city apply at the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity (JCEO) outreach center in their own towns, or, in the case of Beekmantown, Mooers and Schuyler Falls, at the town office.
Eligibility is based on income, and, families must have children 16 and younger living in the home, must provide proof on income and Social Security for all in the household, and custodial/child support documents.
To donate to the agency, which is all volunteer and donor-funded, mail checks to the Christmas Bureau, P.O. Box 1253, Plattsburgh, NY 12901.
To volunteer or donate toys, go to the Christmas Bureau between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Donations can also be made at the Christmas Bureau's gift-wrapping booth at Champlain Centre mall, which raises funds for the all-volunteer agency.