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December 12. 2013 9:46PM

Salem volunteers truly are Santa's helpers


Salem residents Faith Bylerly, 11, and Meagan Poliskey, 10, stuff stockings inside the Granite United Church in Salem Wednesday evening. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)

SALEM — Hundreds of volunteers in southern New Hampshire and the Merrimack Valley are spreading some holiday cheer to those who may otherwise have been forgotten on Christmas morning.

As part of the Granite State Church's Christmas Stocking Campaign, efforts to stitch, stuff, seal and deliver some 500 stockings are in full swing this week, with stockings making their way to various shelters and agencies around the region.

The project began in early November, according to Courtland Holloway, who oversees the church's four campuses in Salem and Londonderry, and Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

"There are several fantastic organizations in our communities who have ongoing relationships with struggling individuals and families," pastor Anthony Milas said. "Instead of recreating the wheel, we want to partner with the good that's already taking place."

Moving forward with steady momentum, the stocking project has extended well beyond the close-knit church community.

"We wanted to see hundreds of people contributing to this, not just people from our church," said Derry resident Val Ahina, the campaign's leader.

Ahina noted that she and other church officials have made it a point to reach out to their friends, co-workers and neighbors who aren't necessarily churchgoers but still wish to lend a helping hand.

Her co-workers at NEPS in Salem didn't hesitate to jump on board, Ahina said, donating items and sewing up stockings.

"Some of the ladies I work with made over 100 of the stockings and some of the Christmas cards," she said, noting that yet others have crocheted scarves and hair ornaments to add to some of stockings.

On Wednesday evening, about 70 volunteers were working late into the evening hours, stuffing and sorting stockings upstairs at the main church in Salem.

Volunteers of all ages were onsite, with school children stuffing stockings alongside their grandparents.

The volunteers were asked to "shop" for each recipient, stuffing each stocking based on the recipient's age and gender.

Each stocking was topped off with a handmade card with a personal note inside.

"It's those little things that make it special for someone," Ahina said.

The stockings are being brought to the Emmaus House in Haverhill, Mass., and to the Lazarus House and Casa Nueva Vida in Lawrence, Mass., as well as to Rockingham Community Action, where they'll be given to needy children in Salem, Derry and Londonderry.

Two-dozen special stockings are being set aside for children from Key Program, Inc., a program for at-risk teenagers who aren't able to spend the holidays with their families.

Several Key Program members were among the volunteers assisting at the church Wednesday night. The program serves youth in Salem as well as several border towns, including Methuen and Lawrence, Mass.

"They really enjoy coming in and helping other people who are also going through hard times," Ahina said. "Our goal is to reach out and touch as many lives as we can."aguilmet@newstote.com


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