OXFORD HILLS — The Oxford County Regional Communications Center thinks Christmas isn’t just for kids.
In fact, dispatchers want to go back to the way things were generations ago.
Back when folks looked out for each other. Neighbors knew neighbors. Food and necessities were shared. Barns were raised by whole communities. Folks would talk instead of text. Social meant suppers or dances not Facebook.
People mattered to each other.
They are determined to start a tradition. The first step, this year, was to choose four couples. Elderly couples.
Our elderly are our beginnings, explains Dispatcher Candace Jack, whose idea it was to focus on elders instead of children.
“Without our elderly we wouldn’t have much of a community … we need to go back to a community … get to know your neighbors … giving back … this is our way of giving back.”
She says children are the focus of many local organizations but no one seems to pay attention to the older generation.
And in that, is one of the biggest issues many elderly face. They are forgotten. They are lonely. They are often struggling.
So she and Dispatch Supervisor Camie Sprague put their heads together with help from Dispatcher Nicole Newton and devised a plan.
However, this idea had the help of a child. Jacob Thompson.
Jacob was the nine-year-old Mainer whose love for penguins brought national attention. He was visited by some penguins from the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut shortly before he died from cancer.
OCRCC dispatchers had raised some money for Jacob but he passed away before they could get it to him.
“Jacob’s family asked that it be paid forward,” explains Sprague, “so we are.”
They took up a collection among the small staff of 12 as well as the two directors and, to date, have raised more than $300.
“It snowballed from there,” laughs Jack.
Then the fun began.
“We began collecting food and gifts,” says Jack.
“Our IT guy Al Larrivee reached in his wallet and gave us a generous donation. Jimmy [OCRCC Director James Miclon] is buying hams and Geff [OCRCC Deputy Director Geff Inman] is buying potatoes.”
Newton is responsible for coordinating the food which includes a Christmas meal as well as some pantry staples.
Sprague is in charge of shopping for the food and gifts.
Jack chose to also create stockings for each individual which she has stuffed with useful things as well as a few treats.
She has stuffed 16 stockings with such practical items as hand and foot warmers, Tylenol, hand sanitizer, lotion, candle and lighter and a head lamp (in case power goes out), ice grabbers for shoes, a toothbrush, tissues, some cookies and hot cocoa.
The cost of these stockings has been paid by Jack personally, leaving the food and gifts to come out of the $305 collected.
The hams and potatoes will be paid for by the directors.
The next step was organizing delivery.
“I can’t deliver,” says Sprague, “because I wouldn’t be able to not cry.”
Jack and Dispatcher Tammy Bisbee will play Santa along with Miclon and Oxford Police Officer Rickie Jack (Candy Jack’s husband) in Oxford; Police Chief Rob Federico in Norway and Police Chief Skip Mowatt in Paris.
Listening to Jack make the calls to the chiefs took less than a minute per call.
“It’s overwhelming how quickly people jump on,” says Jack.
The delivery date is today, Dec. 21 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. They can’t wait.
As those who are givers know, the return is as great as the gift.
Knowing you have made someone happy is incredibly fulfilling. However, for these dispatchers, the giving has an even greater return. It is healing.
“They are looking forward to helping these families,” says Miclon. “I think it’s outstanding public service … our staff has such caring hearts that’s why they do their jobs so well and this [effort] has brought everybody together.”
“It’s a wonderful thing,” adds Inman, “teamwork and they’re having fun.”
But of equal importance, Miclon points out, is that “it’s a good emotional project for our organization. It has been a rough year [for the staff] what with the lightening strike and daily tragedies, deaths [of citizens, colleagues and friends], it has put smiles on their faces … they need things like this.”
It is therapy for the dispatchers Miclon says. “A way of dealing with the tragedies that dispatchers handle on a daily basis.”
“We hope to start a tradition here,” says Jack, “and carry it on, start earlier next year so we can give to more families.”
“It’s not funded by the county,” adds Miclon, “it’s from their hearts.”