Gift drive goes awry

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-03-2023 4:53 PM

WINDSOR — Upper Valley residents said they are puzzling over the outcome of a recent holiday gift drive, after learning that thousands of dollars in toys, clothing and other presents for children in need failed to reach their intended recipients.

In a series of events that played out largely on social media, both area residents recruited by a program called Santa’s Helpers and the families they were assigned to purchase gifts for have complained that not all of the gifts were delivered as promised.

Single mother Alyssah Mailloux, of White River Junction, said she had signed up in November to receive gifts for her two sons, ages 6 and 10.

Santa’s Helpers, now in its second year, was organized by a woman who identifies on Facebook as “Mariah Elizabeth” of Lebanon. The Valley News is still seeking an official confirmation of Elizabeth’s legal name and residency.

According to Elizabeth’s Facebook posts, each recruited sponsor would be paired with a receiving family. The sponsor would receive a wish list of the family’s desired items and basic information about the family’s children, including number of children, ages, genders and clothing sizes.

On Dec. 11, receiving families, including Mailloux, went to a pick-up site in Windsor to collect their sponsor’s donations. Mailloux said that the sponsors were instructed to deliver their assigned family’s gifts earlier in the morning.

When Mailloux went to receive her presents, Elizabeth informed her that “her sponsor didn’t show up.”

Elizabeth gave Mailloux a couple of gifts in compensation, though Mailloux said they were not ones that her children could use, such as a pair of toddler-sized boots.

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“At the time I didn’t think anything of it,”  Mailloux told the Valley News. “It wasn’t until I found out later through Facebook that my sponsor had dropped off gifts. She even (posted) a photo.”

Mailloux also discovered, as she read posts on the Upper Valley (VT/NH) Facebook page, that other receiving families were incorrectly informed that their sponsors had not delivered gifts.

In an unsolicited message from a Facebook account with a different name, Elizabeth said that mistakes in distribution were unintentional. In an effort to reduce confusion in the distribution process, Elizabeth said she instituted a number system this year to help to organize and track the sponsor donations. However, Elizabeth, who said she had been in the hospital for a medical issue prior to the distribution day, lost the list containing the number assignments.

“It was purely an accident,” Elizabeth wrote Thursday to the Valley News. “I would never do anything as malicious as people accusing me of.”

Some participants, including Mailloux, are trying to keep an open mind about the event and are hopeful that theft was not involved.

“It was upsetting to know that my sponsor had bought all those items (that did not go where she had expected),” Mailloux said. “But hopefully somebody got them. I hope that this was not a scam. She seemed like a really nice person.”

A complaint was filed about Santa’s Helpers to the Windsor Police Department on Dec. 16, said Sgt. Kevin Blanchard. The investigating officer, Cpl. Jered Condon, filed an initial report but was not available to comment on Friday. 

A few people launched a new Facebook group, Santa’s Helpers Upper Valley, to help track families who did not receive their sponsor’s gifts and to try to pair them with new sponsors before Christmas.

Jeanne Gibbons, one of the group administrators, said she does not know Elizabeth and that her only concern was for the children who may not have been served.

“Everyone in our group is devastated and trying so hard to find out who their families were to see if there’s anything at all we can do,” Gibbons wrote in a message to the Valley News. “I believe financially, everyone has maxed themselves out. But it’s a horrible feeling knowing we just can’t help those kids at all.”

Since the group’s formation last week, the organizers have found sponsors for about 10 families and are trying to find sponsors for 10 other families who identified themselves, Gibbons said.

Patrick Adrian can be reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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