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North Berkshire Elf Program Volunteers Aid 600 Children
By Kathy Keeser, Special to iBerkshires
12:54PM / Thursday, December 22, 2011
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Ed Pratt III, Andre Thomas, Mindy Shoestock, Linda Palumbo and Darlene Ellis have their arms full with donated gifts for needy children at Berkshire Community Action Council's North Berkshire office.


Volunteers in the Elf Program purchase, sort and wrap gifts for area children.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — 'Tis the season and many volunteers of Berkshire Community Action Council in Northern Berkshire have been busy bringing about another successful Elves program for more than 600 children. 

"This is totally a volunteer program that we could not run without their help. Rose [Moore] and I are the only two BCAC staff at the North Adams office and we have to concentrate on fuel assistance and emergency assistance," said Aleta Moncecchi.

The Elf Program connects community members anonymously to area needy families. The sponsors buy Christmas gifts for the children, based on age, gender, sizes and gift suggestions provided.

The Community Action volunteers — or Elves — organize and run the program. For the past month, they have been busy doing intake (signing families up for help), setting up sponsors with the information on the children for gifts, unloading and organizing donated presents, giving out the gifts when the families come for pick up and even helping to load the gifts into cars.

Darlene Ellis has been helping BCAC with the Elf Program for the past four or five years. 

"I believe in the cause and do it for the children. It is important this time of year and it brings holiday cheer to me and to others," she said. "It is kind of part of my 'pay it forward.'"

Ellis is of the firm believe that everyone should volunteer, beginning in in childhood. She practices what she preaches, according to Kim McMann of Target: Hunger, who says when you get Darlene you get three for one since often brings her two children. Nathan, 12, and Natalie, 10, have logged in many volunteer hours already.

A very pleasant surprise for Moncecchi is two men who have become regular volunteers for the Elf Program: Ed Pratt III and Andre Thomas.

"They came one day, and then came back every day," said Moncecchi. "I have just been amazed by how hard they work from sorting out 105 gifts just brought in by a church and carrying gifts to the car for the families."

They free her up to do her regular work, telling her they have it under control.  

"I do it to see the joy in the faces of the families when they come to pick up the gifts," said Andre Thomas. Pratt echoed that sentiment and added that he likes to help others.

Mindy Shoestock has been a regular volunteer for Community Action. While working full time and having two young children of her own, she still finds the time to help and is there whenever Moncecchi needs it.

"It brings tears to your eyes, it's the younger generation and they are stepping up," said Moncecchi.


Volunteer Mindy Shoestock organizes bags of gifts.
It takes other volunteers to complete the work, including regulars from Head Start in North Adams. Karen  Labombard, family advocate at Head Start, has been helping BCAC with the Elf Program for years going back to when she and Moncecchi, then a family advocate, worked together as volunteers in the program.

She is joined by Gloria Senecal, also from Head Start. They are familiar faces to many of the participating families and that helps to make the program more comfortable, said Moncecchi.

BCAC is also helped out by some of Moncecchi's family members. Her son, Tom Moncecchi, 24, has unloaded, carried, and reloaded many gifts this season. Her brother, Willy Morgan, who lives in Adams, just delivered coats and warm clothes that were purchased from a $1,000 donation by Steepleview Realty and taken to C.T. Plunkett for pick up by a dozen families there. He has helped out on many other occasions, including volunteering two days a week to the BCAC food pantry now operated at the Friendship Center.

BCAC has been able to fill the Christmas wishes for more 600 children and they did not have to turn anyone away. Families in need up were accepted up to the last few days and the program is still receiving donations. There was a gap a few weeks back when they lost a few big sponsors who are doing other programs this year, but others stepped up.  

"The people in this community outstanding, it is amazing what they do," said Moncecchi. 
  
Writer's Note: This is part of an ongoing series on the important volunteer work being done in the Berkshires. If you know of a volunteer or a group of volunteers, contact Kathykeeser@gmail.com. To sign up as a volunteer or to post volunteer jobs, go to Berkshirenonprofits.com.
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