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Friday, December 21, 2018

Santa mailbox adds a touch of magic to Windham neighborhood

4 year-old, Harper Maxfield, sends a letter to Santa
By Elizabeth Richards

Sometimes, Santa needs a little help gathering stories. Windham residents, Joanne Mattiace and Maggie Terry, have set up a festive holiday display outside their home, complete with a mailbox to collect letters for Santa.

The couple encourages children to write letters telling Santa what Christmas means to them. Children who have dropped off letters have received a couple of small presents, an ornament, and a letter from Santa in return. 

Town Councilor Jarrod Maxfield lives in the neighborhood and said his four-year-old daughter, Harper, “couldn’t have been more excited when we walked through the neighborhood to see the display and Santa mailbox.”  She was also very excited to receive a response from Santa, though she was worried that she hadn’t put cookies out until she was reassured that Santa would be back, Maxfield said.

The Santa mailbox is something new for Mattiace and Terry this year. The idea came spontaneously, Mattiace said, when she and Terry were at the Christmas Tree Shop. “We saw this great mailbox and thought ‘let’s decorate it and ask the kids for their letters,” she said.

The display draws people out in the neighborhood, especially at night when it’s all lit up. “It’s a nice thing for the neighborhood to bring people together,” Maxfield said.

Although giving Santa a helping hand is new to the pair, charitable giving is not.  We’ve done a lot of charitable events at Christmas time,” Mattiace said. Each year the products attorney reaches out to clients for product donations. “They almost all come through for us,” she said.  Clients donate many household items, like blankets, comforters, sheets and pillows, as well as personal items. This year, Samsonite donated 120 backpacks. So, they reached out to other clients for things like toiletries, gloves or mittens, and hats, and donated the stuffed backpacks to the Preble Street Resource Center and the women’s crisis center.

When Mattiace and Terry began their holiday giving projects, they focused on the women’s crisis center. The first year they put some products under the tree for the women and their children. Over time, they collected enough donations to give things to the center to hold for women so that when they found a new place to live, they had some things to get them started.  Then Samsonite donated backpacks, and the charitable giving was extended to Preble Street.  “This year, we had so many additional donations of cash and checks from our family and friends that we extended the donation to the Windham Food Pantry,” Mattiace said.

Her clients respond eagerly to her requests for donations, and this year over $7000 worth of products went out, Mattiace said.  She added that they only donate to 501c3 organizations and tell clients that they can provide tax documentation if requested. “In the eleven years we’ve done this, one company, one time, has asked us for documentation. These companies are doing it because we ask them to, not because they want a write off,” she said.

Next year, Mattiace said they plan to expand their giving to Westbrook, after a recent visit to that city reminded them that there are some organizations there who also need some help. When she retires, in the next year or so, Mattiace said she hopes to start a foundation that will reach out to at-risk teens, children, and residents of nursing homes.

“I really think that Maggie and I have focused on charitable giving at Christmas time because we adopted a young boy years ago…and Christmas has meant a lot to him,” Mattiace said.  “Everybody needs a little holiday cheer, whether you’re Christian or Jewish or whatever, whether you’re old or young, straight or gay. We all just need to be a little kinder to each other,” she said.

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