FARMINGTON — Santa Claus is on his way to Farmington to help gather Christmas gifts from the community for Operation Santa Claus.

Santa and members of Farmington Fire and Rescue will be on the streets around downtown Farmington starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18, collecting gifts for the Western Maine Community Action program.

The Fire Department will give Santa a ride on its new squad truck while his reindeer rest up for their travels on Christmas Eve, reported a local citizen who sought Santa’s help for the program.  More than 1,000 people in Franklin County will receive gifts through the program, which serves newborns through age 18 and some residents age 60-plus who are in need.

When residents hear the firetruck come down their road, they are welcome to come outside with a gift, a toy or warm clothing, something to meet the need seen here in local communities, a citizen who wished to remain anonymous said.

Those who miss the truck are welcome to meet Santa when he stops by the new Stone Hearth Cafe on Front Street. They can join him for hot chocolate and snacks and to donate a gift until 8 p.m.

Thousands of gifts, a requested toy and a winter clothing item, are being prepared for people in nearly 500 households throughout Franklin County, Bobbie Jo Mealey, a coordinator of the program for WMCA, said.

“There’s tons of requests for toys, but when a 7-year-old only asks for a coat and boots for Christmas …,” she said with a sigh. “It’s not a luxury to have boots in Maine.”

The staff and volunteers try to figure out how to meet that need, she added. During this, her first year helping to coordinate the program, she’s seen a lot of support.

“We’ve been fortunate so far,” she said of the annual program located in an area of high unemployment with a high level of poverty.

Sometimes it seems like “there’s a bigger need than we’re able to meet,” she added. “The good part is everything given stays right here in Franklin County.”

Community involvement in the program is crucial. Mealey has continued the effort to garner that involvement by including even more groups. Three groups from Mount Blue High School have been helping, she said of the National Honor Society, Student Council and the Youth Expeditions to Ignite adventure club.

The anonymous citizen contacted WMCA after seeing an article in the newspaper about how fifth- and sixth-grade students at Cascade Brook School joined forces to help Operation Santa Claus, he said.

He remembered how Santa Claus rode around in a firetruck to meet children when he was a kid in New Jersey, he said. After contacting WMCA and offering to help, he started planning with fire Chief Terry Bell. He has also invited Farmington police Chief Jack Peck to ride along in a police cruiser and help collect gifts, he said.

“There’s a need for it. Times are tough,” he said. “Any little bit helps.”

Coats, ski pants and boots from toddlers to size 6 to adult, are needed, Mealey said. There’s still nearly 100 different requests on hold, and some gift tags were taken but haven’t been filled yet. The program tries to supply a toy and article of winter clothing for each request, she said. In some homes, that may be the only thing some children receive for Christmas.

Santa delivers some gifts to local families, while others pick up the presents from the program’s North Pole site now at the Bass Building in downtown Wilton.

“It’s a little crazy at the North Pole now,” she said. “It’s getting hectic. We’re really trying to pull it together. There’s a lot of help, but there are last-minute requests and tags that are not filled.”

For more information or to help with a specific gift, contact Mealey at 645-3764.

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