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After three decades, Project Merry Christmas calls it quits

Nonprofit brought holiday cheer to those in need since 1985
Project Merry Christmas, a nonprofit that has delivered gifts to people in need during the holidays, will disband after more than three decades in operation.

After 34 years of trying to make the holidays brighter for families and people in need, Project Merry Christmas has announced it will disband.

In a statement posted to its website, the nonprofit’s Board of Directors announced the dissolution of Project Merry Christmas.

“Our board is grateful for working in a community that has sustained us, and the service we’ve been able to provide to our families for 34 years,” the statement said. “Every year we are amazed of the generosity of the La Plata community.”

Since 1985, Project Merry Christmas has provided toys, food and clothing to families and people in need in La Plata County. The effort has relied on hundreds of volunteer hours to carry out the holiday cheer.

In 2019, the nonprofit helped 525 families and individuals.

But Tauni Gosche, president of the board, said Project Merry Christmas’ sheer success caused the effort to grow so large, it became too much for nine all-volunteer board members.

One board member, for instance, put in an estimated 435 volunteer hours from November to December last year.

“It was getting harder and harder to find board members to put that much time into it,” she said. “No one understands the magnitude of what the board members have to go through every year to pull this off.”

The Board of Directors tried to come up with solutions that would avoid shutting the charity down, but those efforts were unsuccessful. The board unanimously voted Jan. 14 to dissolve the organization.

“It was a very difficult decision,” said Gosche, who has served on the board 23 years.

Even the Durango Fire Protection District, which delivers many of the gifts, had become overwhelmed. Chief Hal Doughty said Monday that before Project Merry Christmas disbanded, he decided to pull out of the effort.

“It got so big that we couldn’t safely transport all the packages on the fire trucks,” he said. “So we made the decision to not do it any longer.”

Project Merry Christmas has come a long way since it was founded in 1985, serving about 30 families at the time. In the past few years, the nonprofit has helped more than 500 families annually.

Sometimes, donations included toys or winter jackets to less fortunate children, usually in eighth grade or below. The charity would also deliver gift certificates to families who couldn’t afford a Christmas dinner. And other times, gifts were as simple as socks or slippers that a senior citizen needed.

Project Merry Christmas was also responsible for putting up the Angel Tree and Bell Tree in the Durango Mall, where anyone interested in donating could find a list of needed items. Volunteers could also “adopt” a family or person and take care of their wish list.

On delivery day, which was typically a week or so before Christmas, volunteers personally brought gifts to the people they bought gifts for. If a donor preferred to remain anonymous, emergency personnel with the Durango Fire Protection District got to play Santa.

In the statement, the Board of Directors said it will contact other La Plata County nonprofits that meet Project Merry Christmas’ “mission statement” and disperse the remaining donations.

“It is our sincere hope that other organizations will develop programs on behalf of our families for future holiday seasons,” the statement said.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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