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Veteran Mike Hanson poses with Tina Samson and Mayor Thomas Bernard on Friday at the Veterans Office.
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Veterans Agent Stephen Roy with the bags filled by Administrative Assistant Tina Samson and volunteers for local veterans.
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The mayor took some time to welcome veterans. His father, also Thomas, had volunteered in the office for years archiving records.
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Samson holds one of the cards made by local students.
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Christmas Comes Early at North Adams Veterans Office

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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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. 

Tags: Christmas story,   holiday story,   veterans,   

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North Adams Airport Commission Finalizes Restaurant RFP

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

The Airport Commission made final changes to a request for proposals for a restaurant at the new terminal. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Airport Commission made some final changes to the proposed Terminal Building request for proposals that will be released in the coming months.
 
Administrative Officer Michael Canales had asked the Airport Commission last week firm up some of the requirements built into the restaurant RFP, specifically preferences for hours of operation and meals served.
 
"It is in good shape and ready to go but one of the final decisions that ultimately rests with the committee is establishing requirements and minimum criteria," Canales said. "How many restrictions do you want to place on this that is the last piece we need to know."
 
The vacant medical building donated to the city by Berkshire Health Systems was moved farther back onto the airport campus and is currently being renovated to serve as Harriman & West Airport's administrative building. 
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