Santa has decided not to visit thousands of households in the Merrimack Valley this year.
Globe Santa, that is.
The charity program run by the Boston Globe, which has donated millions of toys to tens of thousands of families and children across Eastern Massachusetts for more than 50 years, has decided not to make deliveries in Lawrence, Haverhill and Lowell.
The reason is the economy, according to a Boston Globe official.
"As with many charitable organizations, the demand for services has increased significantly while our fund-raising has remained flat or worse," said Bob Powers, Globe vice president of marketing and communications. "Faced with this situation we made a very difficult decision to reduce the area of service we could reasonably handle. We regret any hardship this action may cause for the Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill areas."
Powers said that at least part of the reason for the cut-back has been the continuing success of fund-raising programs by organizations such as The Eagle-Tribune, which sponsors the Santa Fund. That fund benefits families served by the Salvation Army. Of the 167 communities served by Globe Santa, Haverhill, Lawrence and Lowell were the only three cut.
Al Getler, publisher of The Eagle-Tribune, said the newspaper's holiday fund-raiser will continue.
"Everyone appreciates what the Globe has done for our local community over the years," Getler said. "And we understand the need to constrict their giving area in these difficult times.
"The Eagle-Tribune's Santa Fund is still very much in place and helping families in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire. Our readers continue to support one another."
Powers said many families in the Merrimack Valley seek assistance through the Department of Transitional Assistance, which has sent out letters explaining that Globe Santa would not be available to households in Haverhill, Lowell and Lawrence.
Last year, Powers said, Globe Santa helped 1,694 households in Lowell, 1,893 households in Lawrence, and 553 in Haverhill. Overall, Globe Santa helped 31,585 families and gave presents to 55,815 children last year.
However, donations were down from $1.3 million in 2008 to $1.17 million last year, Powers said. The charity took that as a sign that this year donations would be even lower while the need would be even greater. The decision was then made to cut three communities from its list of 167 — most of which are inside the Interstate 495 belt — that receive donations from Globe Santa.
"We base our giving based on what we got the previous year," he said. "Last year was low. Based on our calculations of what the need was going to be, we couldn't do it. The need has gone up in other communities."
He said it's "very rare" for the charity, started in 1956, to eliminate recipient communities. He said he couldn't remember the last time it was done.
However, it's also possible that if donations improve, those communities could be restored to the recipient list, he said.
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