WATERVILLE, Maine — For many of us, Christmas memories from childhood include opening wrapped gifts stacked under a tree, or peeking into overflowing stockings hanging from the fireplace. A lot of people in Maine, though, are living in poverty -- which means they can't always afford these extravagant celebrations.
It's why the Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers in Waterville is working to bring that Christmas joy to every child in the state, regardless of their household income. Volunteers are busy doing the work of Santa's helpers, as the holiday gets closer with every passing minute.
"We're going to get this thing done and get it done right, so these kids have these toys and these gifts," John Veilleux, the Christmas program coordinator at the Maine Children's Home told NEWS CENTER Maine in his office Friday. He says every kid on the list will have their package before Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
John also boasted about his volunteers, calling them some of the best. He estimates the program has about 250 volunteers total -- but only a handful of them are regulars. His wife, Victoria Veilleux, is one of them. She says that as a mother and grandmother, packing personalized boxes for kids based off of Christmas list wishes is really special.
"We all get excited if you find something for a child that is really something that they want on their list -- because you know on Christmas morning when they open that up how excited they're going to be."
The program has changed the lives of families all around Maine. The Maine Children's Home delivers boxes of gifts and clothing to more than 1,700 children from low income families each year. Last year, the organization served people in more than 144 cities and towns from Fort Kent to Kittery.
"They help so much -- they really do," said Bobbi Jo Smiley, a single mother with four kids who has been turning to the Maine Children's Home for help for years. "I hope they know just how much they do help."
But this year, volunteers and coordinators say they are struggling to fill all of the boxes for kids because they are lacking donations. Three other Santa-like programs in Maine closed this year, so the Maine Children's Home is feeling pressure that people living comfortably may not understand is there.
"I think there are a lot of families who maybe are doing very well and maybe aren't really sure -- don't really realize -- that there are also a lot of families that are barely getting by," Elizabeth Barron, the Director of Development for the Maine Children's Home, explained.
That's because even when times are looking up for some, they aren't looking up for others.
"When the economy seems to be booming and lots of people in the economy are doing well -- somehow, somewhere, there are still families that are struggling," Barron added.
Staff say that any time is a good time for people interested in donating to do so. If an item doesn't need to be distributed this year, it will be saved until next year.