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Potsdam man aims to warm the heads and hands of St. Lawrence County kids in need

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POTSDAM — When Robert A. Porter leaves his home each morning bundled up to combat the brutal winter weather, all he can think of are the children of St. Lawrence County who can’t afford the luxury of hats, mittens and scarves.

“You get this unusual cold we have now and you get your hat on, you get your gloves on, you get your scarf on. Well, what happens when you don’t own those things?” Mr. Porter said. “You’re going to go out there in the type of cold that we are having at 10 to 20 below zero without having anything, and it gets you thinking.”

Standing behind the counter at the 22 Market St. craft and hobby shop Misty Hollow, where he has been a clerk for 14 years, Mr. Porter said it was a kind gesture by an elderly woman that inspired him to start his drive to collect hats, scarves and mittens for foster children under the care of the county’s Department of Social Services.

“A woman was buying yarn, and she said she was knitting for the orphans. I hadn’t heard that expression, ‘orphans,’ in a long time,” Mr. Porter said.

The woman said there was a need for hats at Social Services. He contacted Heather A. Rand, the grade A supervisor of the foster program, who told him every little bit helps.

“I was totally unaware of his project and what he was doing over there when he out of the blue contacted me,” Ms. Rand said. “I was pretty excited about it because this year, being unseasonably cold and also with the number of children we have in care and the number of children and families that we work with, it seemed like perfect time and a great opportunity for us to be able to provide children and families in St. Lawrence County with some needed hats, mittens and scarves.”

This kind of generosity is not out of the ordinary for Mr. Porter, who has been holding the same toy drive every year before Christmas. He has even been donating gently used toys to Social Services with his homemade scarves, hats and mittens.

The foster program helped 550 to 600 children in December alone. Ms. Rand said that is the average every month.

The families in need are identified by Social Services caseworkers who deliver the items to those families.

“I think this has been a tremendous help this year,” Ms. Rand said of Mr. Porter’s generosity. “The weather conditions have been persistently cold, and we see a number of people who continue to struggle to buy the things they need.”

Mr. Porter said while this may be the first year he has attempted to provide these winter necessities to children, it won’t be the last. Ms. Rand said she looks forward to working with him in the future.

The drive began after Thanksgiving, Mr. Porter said, and he plans to continue it into March. If anything comes in after that, he said, he will store it for next year.

He said this season he has delivered a total of 140 hats, scarves and mittens to Social Services.

“When I go out the door I would like to know that there are kids also going out the door staying warm, and that I made a difference,” Mr. Porter said. “If we all tried to make a difference, it would be a lot better world.”

Anyone interested in donating hats, scarves or mittens can visit Misty Hollow during regular business hours: weekdays 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.

Donations may also be mailed to Mr. Porter at the shop.

Monetary donations are not being accepted.

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