The Era’s Less Fortunate (ELF) Fund is kicking off its 30th year of bringing holiday cheer to the Bradford community.
The program matches needy children and senior citizens in the community with residents who volunteer to purchase Christmas gifts for them.
“Our goal is to make sure every child and senior has a gift to open on Christmas morning,” explained Ed Hayden, president of the ELF Fund board of directors.
This year, the ELF Fund volunteers are seeking help from the community early to ensure the program’s success.
First, Hayden said ELF Fund volunteers are struggling to find a suitable distribution center for this year’s gifts, and they are hoping a local business or land owner will offer building space for the program during the first two weeks in December.
Ideally, the space would have convenient parking and be close to the downtown area, as many recipients lack transportation and walk to the site.
Second, the board is seeking “local businesses to be more involved with the distribution of tags,” he said. The tags tell volunteer gift-buyers what the recipient needs or wants. Offering distribution tags can benefit businesses, too, as it brings Christmas gift buyers to their stores.
Hayden said the ELF Fund has a limited number of Christmas trees which were donated to the program and that can be placed in participating businesses.
While ELF officials are seeking more help from businesses, Hayden noted, “We’re very appreciative of the several businesses that already do help us out.”
Anyone interested in offering their business or property for tag or gift distribution may contact the ELF Fund through its website or Facebook page.
According to Hayden, in the beginning, the program’s founders did not know the tradition they were creating.
Hayden said that in 1983, the year the ELF Fund was born, the program was “intended only to be for one year.” He explained the area was in the midst of a recession at that time.
“Here we are 30 years later,” Hayden said. He noted, “The Era has been our sponsor since the beginning.”
Since the program’s beginning, the number of “local needy has increased.” Last year alone, more than 500 children were helped and 1,200 gifts were distributed. “That number seems to grow every year,” he said.
Hayden said it was only through the support of the community that the program continues.
“We have a great board of directors that keeps us rolling and a wonderful set of volunteers,” he said. “We can’t say ‘thank you’ enough.”
In honor of the 30-year anniversary, Hayden said they will offer a couple of “unique” items at the Festival of Trees, which is the programs biggest fundraiser.
He is hoping to increase attendance at this year’s festival, as it was down in 2012, and the board is offering new auction and menu items to entice anyone looking for a fun night out or unique Christmas gifts to attend. “I think the public is going to be pleased,” Hayden stated.
He noted the ELF Fund has received new donations from the inmates at Federal Correctional Institute-McKean, who create toys to be given to recipients, as well as items to be auctioned at the festival, in their wood shop.
Children under the age of 17 who are enrolled in school and senior citizens who live in the Bradford Area School District and qualify financially will be accepted into the program.
Application dates will be held in October. Hayden stressed that applicants will not be able begin the application process until they have all the required information.
To apply, applicants must have Social Security cards for everyone living in the home, positive proof of income for each person in the home who is employed and identification for parents and senior citizens. They also need to have gift request information at that time, which includes, for children: toys and clothing requests and pants/shirts/shoe sizes; and for seniors: gift and clothing requests and pants/shirt/shoe size.
For ELF Fund organizers, the year-long endeavor means that hundreds of senior citizens and children will not go without this holiday season.
It’s worth it “if we can just make one child smile,” said Hayden.