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December 11. 2011 11:26PM

Compassionate Friends give toys to Santa Fund


Sherie Weber, center, raises candles in memory of her sister Julia Gauthier during The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting ceremony Sunday evening at St. Anthony Church in Manchester. (MARK BOLTON / UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Channeling their grief for a good cause, the members of Compassionate Friends of Manchester-Nashua donated hundreds of toys for needy children at their annual candle-lighting vigil at St. Anthony's Church Sunday night.

To members of the group, other members are the only ones they can turn to who understand their grief, because “normal people” don't know what they're going through, said Daniel Gauthier, a middle school teacher from Concord whose daughter, Taylor, died five years ago at age 6 from an aggressive cancer that killed her two months after she was diagnosed.

“Everybody is so, so sorry. It brings on the feeling that it could happen to (their) child,” he said.

At the vigil, the images of hundreds of men, women and children who died were flashed on a screen and their names read aloud. “Unfortunately,” as one man put it, the church's pews were filled with more than 700 people.

The local candle-lighting is part of a national ceremony in which candles are lit at 7 p.m. in each time zone by chapters of Compassionate Friends, said Linda Riley, a leader of the Manchester-Nashua chapter.

Most of the bereaved parents brought toys to the vigil that their children might have wanted.
“It feels very good to give away something their child might have liked,” Riley said.

The toys will be donated to the New Hampshire Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army, which will distribute the toys to families in need. Merchants Automotive Group has donated its services to transport the toys for the fund, said Teresa Robinson, community relations manager for the Union Leader.

The group is not only for parents of small children. Sue Gordon and Diane McEntee each lost an adult son. Tara Marandos of Nashua, who coordinates a portion of the group for siblings of the deceased, was mourning the five-year anniversary of the death of her brother, Tory, who was murdered Dec. 12, 2006.

“You can come to these meetings where everyone gets it. You don't have to explain it,” said Gordon, whose son, Doug, died five years of colon cancer at age 33. “It's a safe place to cry. It's a safe place to laugh.”

“I think I'm here today, and functioning, because of them,” said McEntee, whose son, Daniel, committed suicide 10 years ago. “I have a lot of friends and people who understand my emotional ... stuff.”

For Marandos, the group was a place of calm. Her brother's murder — it happened while he was at work as the general manager of an adult entertainment club — was splashed on television news and newspapers.

“It wasn't something I could hide from. It was in my face because it was in the news so much,” she said.

She said people avoided her because of a “stigma associated with murder.”

“Even now, I have friends who say I should just get over it. You never get over it,” she said.

Gauthier, who said Compassionate Friends “saved my life,” said he came to the group because he wanted to talk to people who understood not only his grief, but his anger and every other emotion he was struggling with.

“Now I'm a statistic and I hate that,” Gauthier said. “Other people lost children. But I lost Taylor. People just don't understand that.

“I didn't want to go to a therapist who says, ‘OK, I'm paid now. Here's what you need to do,'” he said. “You don't think you're going to live. You don't think you're going to survive the death of your child.”

He said the group helped him lift “the fog” of his sadness.

“Grief is inevitable. Misery is optional,” he said. “Every day is strictly a matter of survival. Some days you survive easier than others. I used to cry on a daily basis. Now it's about a weekly basis.”

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The generosity of Santa Fund donors makes it possible for the holidays to still be a joyful time. The Santa Fund makes food, clothing and gifts available during the holiday season, so financially stressed families can put their resources toward paying bills for basic needs.
Santa Fund donations may be made by sending a check to the Union Leader Santa Fund, in care of the New Hampshire Union Leader, P.O. Box 9555, Manchester 03108; or by placing a donation in the Santa Fund box in the lobby of the newspaper, at 100 William Loeb Drive, Manchester, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Donations can also be made online at www.unionleader.com/santafund.

Every effort is made to promptly publish Santa Fund contributions. Donors who wish to see their contributions listed before Christmas are encouraged to submit them as soon as possible. The Union Leader publishes photos of donors of $1,000 or more.

Contact Teresa Robinson at 206-7833 for more information.

How to donate

Santa Fund donations can be made by completing the online form by clicking "Donate" below or send a check to:

c/o New Hampshire Union Leader
P.O. Box 9555
Manchester, NH 03108

You can also drop off the printed form in our newspaper and a donation in the Santa Fund box at the Union Leader, 100 William Loeb Drive in Manchester from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. We will also have a donation drop box at the Intown Manchester Holiday Market on Thursday, November 29 and every Thursday in December.

Share a holiday greeting

With your donation, the Union Leader will publish a short holiday message in the newspaper. Just write it up exactly as you would have it appear, printing clearly, and mail it along with your donation. If you prefer to donate online, follow the link on the page following the transaction to submit a Christmas message.

For more information, please contact Shannon Sullivan, Union Leader Community Relations Manager, at (603) 206-7833 or ssullivan@unionleader.com

The Union Leader Santa Fund is a community tradition that has supported the Salvation Army for more than 50 years. The Santa Fund was first established at the Post Office Fruit in Manchester after a chance 1959 meeting between the Salvation Army major and the then-editor of the Union Leader.

In its first year, the Santa Fund brought in $1,000 to support the Salvation Armys Christmas effort. Since then, the Santa Fund has raised nearly $6.8 million, thanks to the generosity of the community and local businesses. Santa Fund dollars continue to provide warm clothing, meals and toys during the holidays, as well as support Kids Caf, summer camps and other critical programs throughout the year. Last year's drive brought in over $240,000 thanks to the generosity of local businesses and residents, bringing the lifetime total to nearly $6.8 million.

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