SKOWHEGAN — With the help of a local business, more than 20 children will receive gifts this holiday season.

Following a long tradition, the owners and employees of The Ice Cream Shoppe at 209 North Ave. in Skowhegan placed a donation jar on the front counter over the summer season to collect for a designated cause or nonprofit organization.

This year, 21 children from eight families will benefit from ice cream shop’s efforts and customers’ generosity.

Tina Gardner, who owns The Ice Cream Shoppe with her husband, Rob, said she contacted the guidance department in Maine School Administrative District 54, which gathered a list of families who need extra help.

“I called the school system and worked with one of the guidance ladies, and she chooses families that are in need or are not necessarily getting aid from somewhere else,” Gardner said. “We help out those that may be down and out for the year and need a little extra.”

Gardner said the families indicated what their children need for clothing and winter gear, and what they would enjoy for toys or other items.

“We always start with the necessities,” said Gardner, who, with some of her staff members, does the shopping and wraps the gifts.

“We started at 7 a.m. one Saturday and spent 12 hours shopping. The next day, we got together and spent the day wrapping presents and making sure that everyone has everything,” Gardner said.

“We spend thousands. It’s whatever they raise over the summer. We ask the school for about 20 students, depending on their need, but if there’s more, we will figure it out.”

Gardner said they spent $1,500 this year on coats, ski pants and about 15 pairs of winter boots.

For employee Kristen Salley, who has worked at The Ice Cream Shoppe’s Skowhegan and Farmington locations for about five years, there is much joy in selecting gifts for the families.

“It’s very, very rewarding to see everything come together, and it was fun to shop for them,” Salley said. “We get their age and a general description, and we name them and try to make it personal. You become attached to the child, even though you don’t know them.”

Kamy Pooler, 19, left, and Kaitlyn Paul, 17, wrap gifts Sunday for newborns while working at Tina Gardner’s house in Mercer. The pair and other staff members and friends of Gardner’s business, The Ice Cream Shoppe, wrapped gifts for about 50 people. The gifts were purchased with donations from customers. Gardner and her husband, Rob, have ice cream shops in Farmington, Randolph and Skowhegan, and are building a fourth in Oakland. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

When the shopping and wrapping are done, the gifts are given to the schools to be handed out to the families, according to Salley.

In Skowhegan, each recipient receives a winter coat, boots, ski pants, hats and mittens, two outfits and a few toys.

Salley said sponsoring families began a few years ago, after some of the employees at The Ice Cream Shoppe saw the need that existed within the community.

Initially, the donation jar was not heavily advertised, but over the years, word has spread.

Salley said donations have increased steadily, often coming from change after purchases and sometimes from people who stop at the at ice cream shop just to give money.

“Once we mentioned it to people, they seemed really supportive,” Salley said. “We had this great guy that heard about it and came back with a bunch of money to donate.”

Riley Welch, left, her mother, Bobbi Jo Welch, right, and Heidi Dubois wrap gifts Sunday at Tina Gardner’s house in Mercer. The trio and other staff members and friends of Gardner’s business, The Ice Cream Shoppe, wrapped gifts for about 50 people. The gifts were purchased with donations from customers. Gardner and her husband, Rob, have ice cream shops in Farmington, Randolph and Skowhegan, and are building a fourth in Oakland. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The Ice Cream Shoppe also has a location in Randolph, and the Gardners are building a location in Oakland, which they plan to open in May 2021.

On Saturday, Gardner and some members of her staff from the Farmington location shopped for families in the Farmington area, including 20 individuals from 12 families, and 27 residents from MaineGeneral Rehabilitation & Long Term Care at Gray Birch in Augusta.

“I’m very appreciative of (Gardner) for letting us do this, and for our community that is so supportive,” Salley said.

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