Mary LaPierre, whose late husband was a Korean War veteran, says the Veterans Office has been helpful in getting her widow's benefits.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Santa came early this year for nearly 200 local veterans and family members.
Lined up in ranks across tables and the floor were shopping bags, wrapped gifts, cards and sports bags filled with necessities were ready for pickup on Friday morning at the North Adams Veterans Office.
"This is a precision operation," said Mayor Thomas Bernard, who donned his favorite "ugly" Christmas sweater and a Santa hat to spend an hour welcoming veterans and shaking their hands.
Operation Christmas for Veterans is the passion of Tina Samson, the office's administrative assistant, who has been coordinating the effort and cajoling for donations for the past five years to benefit the veterans served in the regional office's 10 communities.
"Two weeks in December my mind's a mush," Samson said. "It's getting bigger and bigger every year."
Veteran Agent Stephen Roy laughed at Samson's description but added that he's planning to nominate her for administrative assistant for the year for all the work she's done.
"Since we've taken on Dalton and the other communities her responsibilities have increased and there's a lot going on," he said. "It started off small with cards and gift certificates, but then it just exploded."
The city engaged with Adams and Williamstown nearly seven years ago to create a regional portal for veterans to access benefits; since then, Roy's duties have grown as more surrounding towns have signed on. The office now covers Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Dalton, Florida, Lanesborough, North Adams, Savoy and Williamstown.
Samson, who joined the office six years ago, began small with gift cards, then businesses and organizations began responding to her call for more donations. Over the years that's meant tote bags, coats, socks and hats, blankets, food and personal necessities and even toys for children and gifts for spouses and survivors. She's even opened a food pantry for veterans in City Hall, and reminded each person who arrived on Friday for their benefit check and gift not to forget to stop by the pantry.
"Oh wow," said Navy veteran Katherine Bliss as she opened an envelope with gift cards. Bliss called her service during the 1970s "one of the best decisions I made."
She said she was appreciative of the office's efforts. "Anything they do for us is nice, they recognize us," Bliss said.
"Not that long ago, we weren't recognized," added Army veteran Shaun LaValley, standing behind her.
Mary LaPierre indicated the support had been crucial after the death two years ago of her husband of 61 years, Robert, a Korean War veteran. Her income had been cut as a property taxes on their retirement home increased and her granddaughter had come to live with her.
"My granddaughter is a blessing," she said.
Quite a few veterans had younger granddaughters living with them, Samson said, and donated comforters had been put aside for them.
Samson tries to equal out the gifts each year, keeping everything on a spreadsheet. Her efforts are supported by a number of groups on a regular basis, such as Probate Court and the Elks. This year, first-graders created Christmas cards to place in each bag.
"The volunteers are great, everybody's just great," she said.
Most of the gifts, not surprisingly, go to North Adams residents but more veterans are coming in as they become aware of eligibility for benefits. Those in Adams will get their gifts on Monday and the few in Cheshire had them mailed.
The work that the veterans office does was clearly on display Friday as Roy got a phone call. A veteran from Cheshire who'd spent years trying to get his claim recognized had turned to Roy for help. On Thursday, he'd gotten his first Veterans Affairs compensation.
"He's now got $21,000 in the bank ... that's what we do here," said Roy.
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AUGUST 6th - National Night Out
4:00 P.M. - 8:00 P.M.Neighborhoods throughout North Berkshire once again join the North Adams Police, Fire, and Emergency Departments to host a variety of special events such as cookouts, games, contests, music and more! More information.
AUGUST 14th - 23rd Annual Downtown Celebration
JOIN US! The 23rd Annual Downtown Celebration will take over downtown North Adams on Wednesday, August 14 from 5:30 – 9 PM.
RAIN DATE: Thursday, August 15th
BUSINESSES AND VENDORS: Application still available. More information.
10:00 A.M. (FREE, $5 to park), NATURE WALK, Nice 'N' Easy Walk Natural Bridge State Park, McCauley Road More information.
10:00 A.M. (FREE), KIDS, Terrific Tots Playgroup The Family Center, 210 State Street, (413) 664-4821 More information.
10:30 A.M. (FREE), KIDS, Preschool Story Time North Adams Public Library, 74 Church Street, (413) 662-3133 More information.
6:30 P.M. ($3-5), SPORTS, SteepleCats V. Keene Joe Wolfe Field, 310 State Street More information.
6:30 P.M. (FREE), MUSIC, Concerts at the Lake Presents The Matchstick Architects and Bang on a Can Windsor Lake, 200 Windsor Lake Road, (413) 664-6180 More information.
8:00 P.M. (FREE), GAMES, Trivia Night! Ramunto's, 67 Main Street, (413) 398-5152 More information.
The board, which also serves as Housing Opportunities Inc. board, plans to transfer all the HOI assets to the city of North Adams and dissolve the 30-year-old program created to help first-time homeowners.
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Romano, coordinator of the North End Athletic Association, noted this might be the 29th year of the exchange but it was really the 30th trip west. Lipa, Abuisi and others had asked about doing a Feast of St. Anthony, what has been a North End tradition for century now.
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Heat index values are expected to reach 95 to 100 degrees this afternoon. Heat index values could reach 107 to 112 degrees on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon for most of Massachusetts, with values between 96 and 102 locally in the Berkshires. click for more