LITTLE FALLS — It started off in earnest roughly 45 years ago with a handful of needy children in the Mohawk Valley.
“We learned of a couple of families who were hurting,” said Ray Lenarcic, founder of the Gram Lorraine Christmas Clothing Program. “Herkimer County Community College students did fundraising and raised money.”
From there, Lenarcic said the program evolved into a holiday gift-giving program in which individuals and organizations sponsor children in the area to help bring Christmas cheer to their doors.
While volunteers gathered gifts Thursday, pick-up was on Friday.
The program serves about 1,000 children in multiple schools across the valley, including Little Falls, Poland and Frankfort, among others.
“We have several 100 sponsors,” Lenarcic said. “They come from all walks of life, but the vast majority is middle class. People who often times tell me they know what it was like to go about this when they were younger.”
Teachers and faculties in the participating schools help select those students they feel are most in need, and then contact the families to see if they want to participate, Lenarcic said.
The families then list four items of clothing and a toy, book or game of choice for the child to be sponsored.
“Without exception, the sponsors get more than what they’re asked to get,” Lenarcic said.
He said the program started out with sponsors getting needy children toys, but after a student Lenarcic had in a class expressed concern over kids without proper winter gear, that changed.
“From that point on, everything changed,” he said. “We became clothing oriented.”
Lenarcic said the last two years a golf tournament fundraiser has helped raise money to buy winter coats.
The name of the program also has changed — in 2001 Lenarcic changed the name from Adopt a Child to Gram Lorraine due to the death of his mother-in-law Lorraine Crouse.
Lenarcic said those who participate in the program epitomize what Christmas is all about.
“You think about that Christmas morning and the looks one their faces,” he said. “Every child in this country deserves to be happy on Christmas morning.”