George Bergleitner (left) poses for a photo with Katy Graves, vice president of the Christmas Feeling Fund (right).
George Bergleitner (left) poses for a photo with Katy Graves, vice president of the Christmas Feeling Fund (right).

George Bergleitner is bringing Christmas to the town of Stamford a little early this year with the help of the 46th annual Christmas Feeling Fund.

Each year, the fundraiser collects more than $20,000 to purchase and distribute boxes of food, warm clothing, and gifts to more than 200 local families in need. The effort is shared between community volunteers and Sacred Heart parish, the First Presbyterian Church and United Methodist parish in Stamford.

“The whole town helps,” said Mr. Bergleitner, a parishioner at Sacred Heart. “It’s a community project.”

This year, distribution day will be held on Saturday, Dec. 15, starting at 9 a.m., at the First Presbyterian Church. An estimated 230 families are anticipated. 

Mr. Bergleitner, who leads the fundraising effort, has set a goal of raising $30,000 for the incoming families. Last year, the organization raised $24,935 and helped 232 families. The fund helps individuals in Stamford, Jefferson, Gilboa, South Kortright and other surrounding towns. 

“I think you have an obligation [to give back] when God has been so good to you,” Mr. Bergleitner told The Evangelist. “I have a great family and great grandkids.”

Mr. Bergleitner started the Christmas Feeling Fund over four decades ago while working on Wall Street. He kept a second home in his native town, Stamford, and, around the holidays, would come back to distribute gifts — such as extra leather seats or desk sets from his work — to local bankers, lawyers and doctors.

A friend suggested Mr. Bergleitner distribute some gifts to less wealthy families in the local area. That year, Mr. Bergleitner delivered Christmas presents and turkeys directly to three local families he knew were struggling.

“I went into the first house and came out crying,” he said, adding that it was difficult to see how little some people had.

Today, Mr. Bergleitner’s effort has evolved into an event involving multiple moving parts. Dozens of volunteers work to solicit funding, find local families in need, purchase hundreds of toys, and collect and organize hundreds of pounds of food.Katy Lupin, Sacred Heart parishioner, takes a week off from work every year in December to come back to Stamford and help connect local families with the Christmas Feeling Fund. 

Other volunteers help put together the baskets of food, filling each box with non-perishables like potatoes, canned carrots and sweets. Families also get a choice of either a ham or turkey to take home for Christmas dinner. 

All toys and children’s gifts are also organized by volunteers in order of age, while coats, jackets hats and scarves are organized by size. 

On distribution day, dozens of local and student volunteers from Stamford Central High School help pass out the food, presents and clothing to families. 

Bob Abarno, parishioner at Sacred Heart parish, has been a volunteer with the Christmas Feeling Fund for numerous years. “I’ve been in this town for a long time. I know a lot of people that come in,” he said. “Some people are just down on their luck.”

In previous years, Mr. Abarno was a part of the “gift-wrapping” team for the children’s toys. The fund decided to end wrapping their presents so children can see what toy they are choosing before taking it home. Each child will be able to select up to four toys to take home.

This year, Mr. Abarno will be delivering boxes of food, warm clothing and presents to local families who are unable to attend the distribution, a job he has also done in the past. 

As a eucharistic minister and lector at his parish, Mr. Abarno explained that he felt a Christian responsibility to help others in need: “We’re all on a journey,” he said. 

Mr. Bergleitner said he hopes to continue helping his town for years to come: “I’m just thankful to give back for all God’s giving me.”

For more information about the Christmas Feeling Fund, contact George Bergleitner at (607) 652-3311.