LOCKPORT – For a decade, Niagara County and Unified Court System employees have been leaving gifts for the needy beneath a 10-foot artificial tree set up in the rotunda of the County Courthouse.
The county Giving Tree, expected to be erected Dec. 1, marks its 10th anniversary this year, and organizers are hoping the general public will join in this year by stopping at the Courthouse, located at Park Avenue and Hawley Street, to leave their own presents.
The Courthouse is a high-traffic area for Niagara County, with scores of citizens coming in daily who have business with the courts or county offices, but those in charge of the drive are hoping that folks who otherwise wouldn’t be coming to the building might stop by with gifts.
Beverly Ranney, legal secretary to County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas, is one of those in charge of the program. She said the tree will remain up until Dec. 18.
Ranney said the object is to obtain new and unwrapped items that would benefit the clients of three not-for-profit agencies: Casey House, a shelter for runaway teenagers in Niagara Falls; the Salvation Army in Lockport; and Twin Cities Outreach Clothes Closet in North Tonawanda.
“We kind of spread it around, make sure there’s something for all three cities,” Ranney said. “I’ll make sure it gets somewhere.”
Ranney is among the court system employees who deliver the donations to the agencies.
The gifts sought include hats, mittens and scarves, which was the original purpose. But starting in the second year of the project, the Giving Tree expanded to collect other types of gifts.
Now, the list of desired donations includes toys, art and school supplies, towels, headphones, duffel bags, backpacks, board games, sports balls, personal hygiene products, pajamas, hoodies and other types of clothing, especially coats.
“Anybody coming in, they can just put it under the tree,” Ranney said.
If cash is donated, Ranney said it is used to purchase gift cards for Tops Markets and Walmart.
That way, she said, “People can get what they really need, if what they really need isn’t under the tree.”
Cash can be donated at any of the offices in the Courthouse or in the County Treasurer’s Office across Hawley Street in the Philo J. Brooks County Office Building.
County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross said he was one of those who chipped in to buy the tree a decade ago, after Farkas approached him. County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow and the other judges working in the Courthouse at the time also donated.
“I thought it was a great idea,” Ross said, “to be able to give back to some families and give them a nicer holiday season. We all made a contribution, and 10 years later, it’s still going strong.”