WATERVILLE — A Waterville program to provide financially disadvantaged children with winter clothing and toys for Christmas has, for another year, reached its participant capacity within a month of opening applications.

Help, however, is still needed filling the Christmas boxes.

The Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers’ Christmas Program will provide 1,700 kids throughout the state with new, store-bought items ranging from warm pajamas and mittens to books and toys. The nonprofit, based on 93 Silver St. in Waterville, is now accepting donations to help support the program as the holiday season approaches. It is the only one of its kind in the state, the organization states on its website.

Last year, the Children’s Home received interest from more than 1,700 families within seven days of opening the applications at the end of October.

Samy Sturtevant Courtesy of Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers

“This year, it’s taken a little bit longer, but that’s usually more on par with (previous years),” said Samy Sturtevant, the media and marketing coordinator for the Children’s Home.

The numbers do not reflect more children than usual seeking to be included in the program in 2019, Sturtevant said. The organization capped the program at 1,700 kids based on the observed need of the community over the last several years. Families must have a monthly income at or less than 133% of the federal poverty level to qualify for the program, according to the nonprofit’s website. For a family of four, that means an income of $2,854 or less per month.

“What we normally do is close it at 1,700 kids, but normally there’s a few last-minute needs that come in and we help out with that,” Sturtevant said. “A few years ago, it was 1,800 children, but we’ve found that 1,700 is (an ideal goal).”

The drive comes a week after the Children’s Home hired its first-ever director of development, Elizabeth Barron. The nonprofit made headlines earlier this year after it failed to raise enough funding to keep serving all of the students in its popular Children’s Place childcare and education program for six-week-olds to five-year-olds. It went from serving 53 kids to 36 in August, with cuts made to the three to 5-year-old classrooms, Executive Director Richard Dorian told the Morning Sentinel.

Barron, whose first day was Nov. 18, said she is excited to help stabilize the organization financially so that it can continue to bring programming to the area. The Children’s Home is “truly a legacy program in our state,” Barron said, emphasizing its 1899 founding.

Elizabeth Barron Courtesy of Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers

“We’re having conversations about: How can we build the strength of all the programs by building on the amazing connections we already have with the community and make them even stronger?” Barron said. “And we’re talking about sustainability. How do we keep this legacy moving forward by responding to the evolving needs of our community? It’s exciting to be a part of an organization that is really looking at things this way.”

Barron has worked with nonprofits for more than 30 years, including as president and CEO of United Way of Mid-Maine, director of development and communications at Children’s Center: Early Intervention and Family Support in Skowhegan and a volunteer at several other organizations, according to a news release from the Children’s Home. She said she is looking forward to bringing her fundraising and grant-writing skills to the table.

“Elizabeth’s depth of experience in philanthropy and development, as well as her understanding of community connections, make her a tremendous asset to our organization,” Dorian said. “It is very exciting that she will be able to continue serving in the Mid-Maine community and across the state to support the mission of The Maine Children’s Home.”

While Barron has been informed about the Children’s Place struggle for funding, she said she has not yet had the chance to develop an approach for the necessary fundraising.

“The Teen Parent program and the Children’s Place program are a key part of the support that the Maine Children’s Home provides in the community, so we’re definitely looking at what’s the most effective way to continue that; how do we make sure that the programs that need to be here for our community are getting the support they need,” she said. “That’ s pretty much where I’m at right now.”

She said her first week has been “so far so good.”

“I am happy to be here. There’s an amazing team here, and the programs that this organization provides in the community and throughout the state are making a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “Being able to be a part of telling that story and helping the community connect even more strongly with that is a great honor. (I enjoy) being able to help people see that a lot of good happens when (they) give here or volunteer here.”

For its Christmas program, the Children’s Home is in significant need of boys’ and girls’ warm pajamas, outfits, mittens, gloves, socks and underwear, including slim and husky sizes.

The organization’s “need list,” which can be found in full on the Children’s Home website, also includes books for children ages 9 to 12 and popular toys, including those related to “Frozen,” “Toy Story,” “Paw Patrol,” “Fortnight,”  “Minecraft” and Jojo Siwa, and classics, such as Legos and Play-Doh.

The website: www.mainechildrenshome.org/programs/christmas/donation-needs.

Donations can be dropped off at the Christmas House at the Silver Street campus on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or at five alternate locations in Waterville, Winslow, Augusta, Oxford and South Portland.

If the donation goal is met, all 1,700 participating children will receive a box that contains, on average, two sets of hats and mittens, a pair of pajamas, an outfit of clothing, a coloring or activity book with crayons or markers, two toys and a game for the family to share.

The deadline for donations is the first week of December, although contributions made after that will still be accepted, according to Sturtevant.

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