Real winter weather hasn't set in yet, but when it does, many children throughout Buena Vista County will be warm thanks to the generosity of the good people have donated to the Mr. Goodfellow program.
So far, the Pilot-Tribune's annual children's charity has seen donations totaling $6,200, and dozens of needy area children have already been served.
The program, which dates to the Great Depression years of the 1920s at the newspaper, provides warm winter coats, hats, boots, mittens and snowpants to elementary-age and preschool-age children who otherwise might have none.
The program runs throughout the winter, and more donations are needed.
Goodfellow volunteers in the schools identify children in need, obtain permission from parents, and take the children shopping in the local stores or purchase the items for them.
Jentry, a 2-year-old attending Gingerbread House, was recently taken shopping for a coat, boots, snow pants and mittens (a warm hand-made hat was selected from a cache of headgear already on hand at the school.)
Mom, JoAnn, was very appreciative of the gesture.
She admitted that she didn't know about the Mr. Goodfellow program but was asked if she would like Jentry to receive the new items. "This is an awesome program," she said with great sincerity. "I just want to thank everyone for doing this. It was quite a surprise. It was nice of Danelle (Lovetinsky - Gingerbread's representative) to think of us."
The single mom, who also has a middle school-age child, works but the funds don't stretch as far as always needed. "I really do appreciate this."
Jentry is proud. "He carried that coat with him all over the house when he brought it home," JoAnn commented, "and even laid down with it."
The representatives who go shopping with or for the children, get nearly as excited as the children.
This is Jill Jackson's first year of being one of South School's Mr. Goodfellow reps. "The program is awesome. If we didn't have it, it's hard to tell if some of the kids would have the warm clothes they need."
She loves seeing the excited looks on the faces of the students. "They all say thank you and have big smiles on their faces."
Jan Wiegand, a special education teacher at West School, is a Goodfellow veteran of nearly 20 years. "I look forward to helping with the program every year. This is a marvelous program. There are many family who have several children and they can't afford the costs at one time for buying the clothing for each of them."
The average costs of boots, she said, are $17-25; snow pants run $17-40 and coats, depending on the ages of the students, cost from $17-100.
"When you put that all together, it's tough to make it work when you make minimum wage and have several children to buy for."
She stressed that she and the other representatives are "economical" when it comes to making the purchases. The items are bought slightly bigger so that they may be used for two years and other members of the family are considered in many cases so that the items may be handed down. This is important, she said, so that the program serves as many children as possible.
"I tell the children that I'm helping out their parents, who are too busy to go shopping," she said. "These are kindergarten through fourth grade kids and I don't think they need to know that it is anyone else but their parents buying these things for them. They only need to know security and that their parents are taking good care of them, which they are."
An interpreter will accompany the representative if needed.
Taking care of the items is also stressed so the items will last and will not be lost. Schools make sure the families use the goods well to keep kids warm at winter recesses.
"This is such a wonderful volunteer position and allows us to make a big difference in someone's life. The program has no overhead costs. All the money goes directly to the children. Hats off to this community for taking care of the children in such a subtle way," Wiegand commented.