By Cathy B. Koplen
The Daily Star
---- — More than 80 area families received a Christmas wish this year.
The Rev. Mel Farmer of River Street Baptist Church in Oneonta raised enough money to double his efforts to reach the needy. For six years, Farmer has given away turkeys at Thanksgiving. This year, he said, the generosity of the community was overwhelming, allowing him to expand the giveaway.
“We raised more than $2,200 for our Thanksgiving turkeys,” Farmer said. “We spent half of that on the turkeys, so I thought we should give out hams for Christmas.”
Eighty-four people will be able to claim a ham today from the Hannaford supermarket.
Farmer reached out to the community through his television and radio programs, ``Inspiration Time’’ on Time Warner Cable channels 27 and 23 and “Gospel Hymn Request Time’’ on WDOS-AM in Oneonta and WDLA-AM in Walton.
“Everyone who wanted a ham had to write a letter,” Farmer said. “And everyone who wrote a letter got a ham. Some of those letters were real tear-jerkers. Some of the people said they didn’t have anything. A lot of them were unemployed, and one said their mother was sick.
“These people are not greedy. They have to write a card, and I can tell if it is false. We had 84 people write in, and we are giving them all a ham for Christmas.”
Many of those who donated money are area business people and professionals in Oneonta. Farmer credits an enthusiastic contribution campaign for the additional donations this year.
“Some of my donors are doctors,” Farmer said. “One doctor gave me $100. A lot of small business gave money this year. Oneonta is a caring community.”
Those who were promised a ham will be on a list at the Hannaford store. People arriving to pick up their hams are instructed to go to the service desk.
Only about a third of the 84 recipients are Oneonta residents, Farmer said. The rest come from a four-county region.
When Farmer began the program six years ago, he gave away 21 turkeys for Thanksgiving. The program has doubled several times since then.
When determining what to do with the money left over from the Thanksgiving turkey program, Farmer said he considered several options. He decided to expand the program instead of giving the leftover cash to another charity.
“The food banks are great, and I considered donating the leftover money to them,” Farmer said. “But then I thought, ‘What about giving a ham away from Christmas?’
“Hams are traditional at Christmas dinner. You can eat on a ham for a long time – and after it is gone, you can make soup. My mother always made soup from the ham bone.”