Santa Sheriff brings Christmas to disadvantaged families

When Melanie Easton comes to pick up gift certificates from the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation office, she has been hard at work.

Easton, a detective for the Cattaraugus County sheriff’s office, has been on a raid all morning — of the toy aisle at Wal-Mart.

Melanie Easton and her partner, Kevin McMillen purchase gifts for the Santa Sheriff program.

“We make use of every dollar for these kids,” she said.

She may have been tired from her morning of shopping, but she could not quite hide her excitement either. She added that she had to return to pick up a Lego set for a seven-year-old who will be in a full-body cast this Christmas.

Since establishing the Santa Sheriff Fund at CRCF in 2012, the Santa Sheriff program has used Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce gift certificates to purchase almost $48,900 in gifts for disadvantaged families at Christmas time.

Just this year, the program has purchased $13,500 worth of gifts to deliver to needy families.

Later that day, Easton and her partner leave Wal-Mart with two more carts stuffed full of toys, snow gear, clothing — and of course, a Lego set.

Two county employees established the program in 2004 when they recognized the need. Since then, Easton said she and the committee have seen that need steadily increase.

With Ms. Easton, Kim Harrison has helped run the program over for the past few years. She has helped review applications of families to receive gifts, sought out donations from local businesses, organized fundraisers, and of course done her fair share of shopping and gift wrapping.

Both Easton and Harrison expressed their gratitude for the people and organizations who have helped support Santa Sheriff. The Great Valley Fire Department, for example, has offered space and volunteers have helped to wrap the many presents to be delivered.

Support for Santa Sheriff comes from the very top of the sheriff’s office as well, Ms. Harrison said.

“[Sheriff Timothy Whitcomb] has been a champion of making sure that the families in the county are taken care of since the inception of the program,” she said.

“The Santa Sheriff Fund fills a niche of need in our community, especially this time of year. It’s wonderful that the sheriff’s department has provided this program and is able to serve more families each year as the need has increased,” said CRCF Executive Director Karen Niemic Buchheit.

For Harrison, the joy the program creates for kids across the county warms her heart as well.

“Being able to make sure that the families in the county have something on Christmas morning to open and a dinner that day, brings the spirit of the season to my heart,” she said.

Donations can be made to the Santa Sheriff Fund at CRCF, 301 North Union St., Suite 203, or online at

Established in 1994, the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation is growing good by connecting donors to the causes they care about most in the region. Grants from the foundation support many areas, including education, scholarships, health care, the arts, community development, human service, and youth development. To learn more, call (716) 301-CRCF (2723), email, or visit online at CRCF is also on Facebook ( and Twitter (@CattFoundation).

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