OLD TOWN, Maine — Milford resident Marcia Fieger works full time and owns her home, but she earns only minimum wage and it’s just not enough to pay all the bills and put presents under the Christmas tree.
That is where the Holiday Gift Sharing Program, or secret Santa workshop, at Crossroads Ministries food pantry in Old Town steps in.
Through the gift-giving program, Fieger got to shop for two presents for each of her children — Preston, 3, and Rayne, 1 — and picked out stocking stuffers for the youngsters.
“Look at all this awesome stuff,” she said as she walked into Santa’s secret workshop, set up inside Crossroads’ thrift store on Wood Street.
Piles of new toys lined three long tables. The toys were donated by community members, area churches and businesses, local high school clubs, Toys for Tots, University of Maine students, fraternity and sorority members, the UMaine Bodwell Center for Service & Volunteerism and others.
As Fieger, a single mother, picked out a large dump truck and 46-piece SpiderMan puzzle for her son and a doll house and play set for her daughter, she talked about how tough it is to survive in today’s economy.
“I can’t afford a lot this year,” she told volunteer Marisa O’Clair of Old Town, who helped her pick out the presents. “I work full time, but I’m making minimum wage. My checks run about $250 a week.”
Fieger added: “The only thing I get help with is food stamps. I own my house, but between gas, the lot rent, heat, food and diapers, it’s tough.
“This helps,” she said of the free toys.
After selecting the presents for her children, Fieger was led to a section featuring free winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves, some new and others used, said Keith Whitmore, program manager at Crossroads.
“We don’t want to see anyone go cold,” he said.
The section also had free stuffed animals.
There is nothing better than giving a child a present on Christmas, Whitmore said.
“This is an awesome program,” he said. “It really is.”
Last year, about 240 children found presents under their Christmas trees thanks to the secret Santa program, and already this year more than 500 local kids are signed up, Whitmore said, adding that the list continues to grow as applications roll in.
“The need has doubled,” said Brenda Davis, executive director of Crossroads. “The need is much, much greater this year. Not just here — all over the state.”
To qualify for the Holiday Gift Sharing Program, parents must fill out an application and, once accepted, they are given an allotted shopping time.
Wednesday was the first day that parents hit the secret Santa shop, which will stay open “as long as the gifts last,” Whitmore said. “Last year, we were open until noon on Christmas Eve.”
While applications continue to roll in, so do donations. On Wednesday morning, a woman stopped by Crossroads to drop off $200 in cash. She wanted to remain anonymous.
Crossroads serves families from all over the region, Davis said, adding that people who have fallen on hard times are very grateful and are the first to donate when they get back on their feet financially.
Groups of Old Town High School students, led by Jobs for Maine’s Graduates teacher Bryan Murphy, assist at Crossroads throughout the year. This week, five classes have lent a hand, and on Wednesday morning students Cortland Loring, Josh Wickett, Becca Tidewell, Duskin Walker, Mikayla Either, Brandon White and Cristine Smith showed up to help.
The Holiday Gift Sharing Program owes its success to all the volunteers and people who give, Davis said.
“This program really brings the community together,” she said.
Crossroads will be at the Hannaford supermarket in Old Town from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to collect Christmas gifts and nonperishable food items.
Members of the community in need of support can visit Crossroads Ministries at 2 Wood St. in Old Town or