New Hampshire Kiwanians bring joy to children for the 18th year.
By Cindy Dashnaw
Cradled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Mount Washington Valley lures thousands of visitors each year with seven ski resorts, 150 outlet malls, even snowshoeing and ice climbing. It’s a winter wonderland — and a place where the haves and have-nots are in sharp relief, say Marie Lee and Barbara Plonski, co-directors of the Angels & Elves Committee of the Mount Washington Valley, North Conway Kiwanis Club.
“The Valley is really two communities: People who use the resorts, and the local people, the working poor,” Lee says. ”They struggle to provide for their families. So at least we can give them a good Christmas.”
Every December, Angels & Elves delivers holiday gifts to families who cannot afford to buy them. Here’s how it works: Families apply to be sponsored, and then individuals, families and companies select a child and purchase from their wish list. Outlet mall Settlers Green donates a vacant storefront to serve as elf headquarters, also known as “Elf HQ.” Shoppers take bright yellow wish lists to participating stores offering discounts, and “elves” double-check to ensure every item purchased is the right one.
“Our goal is to put the right bag under the right tree for every child with the right-sized coat and boots and toys,” Lee says.
In 2020, Angels & Elves made wishes come true for 418 children — some of the 9,831 kids helped over the past 17 years.
Along with other supportive community organizations, including local quilting group The Material Girls, Key Club members shop for gifts and get other student groups involved. And when COVID-19 halted many in-person activities, including wrapping parties (popular with local police), former participants made up for their absence.
“We saw a surge in donations and cash, and we got lots of letters saying, ‘We always bought but we don’t feel safe this year, so go out and buy for us,’” says Plonski. “The outpouring was nothing short of amazing.”
The club makes extra cash go further by shopping in the off-season.
“We can buy three or four times as much merchandise in June than in November,” says Lee. “Sometimes we’ll get sponsors started by prepurchasing high-ticket items.”
Of all the heartwarming stories that come from helping others, Lee says, one of her favorites is the time Joy Nagle, an original founder of Angels & Elves, stopped by Elf HQ after many years away. When she walked through the door, she saw 600 industrial trash bags filled with gifts.
“She started to cry,” Lee recalls. “She was so happy to see how we’d not just kept the program she started going, but made it grow so much.”
This story originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Kiwanis magazine.