Most people associate elves and Santa with Christmas, but this year many are turning to fairies for help providing presents for their children. It is all thanks to one Thomaston woman’s desire to give back.

Last March, Carly Laughery started a group called the Wine Fairies of Maine after hearing about the national trend from an upstate New York friend. It was soon after COVID-19 restrictions closed businesses and forced many people to stay in their homes, she said.

She wanted to provide small gifts to people who were emotionally and mentally stressed because of the virus situation. Usually the gift involves alcohol, but it is tailored to personal requests.

“It’s just dropping off this thing that makes somebody happy,” Laughery said. “There's quite a few that involve alcohol, because who doesn’t need wine in the middle of COVID, … But it doesn’t have to be.”

Soon after she started the Facebook group, it boomed in membership, going from a few members to over 4,000 in a matter of weeks.

As Christmas approached she thought about her own personal experience with financial instability last year. Laughery depended upon charity to provide some gifts for her children when her spouse was injured unexpectedly, and she was forced to temporarily quit her job.

Subsequently, with her as the sole earner in her household, their income dramatically dropped, she said. Asking for help was so difficult that she waited until the last minute to ask for donations from a local church, which was able to help her.

This year, she is back to work and able to provide Christmas gifts for her children without help, she said. But she also felt an overwhelming urge to help other people provide Christmas presents for their families.

Laughery works an additional 20 hours to 30 hours per week connecting families in need from every county with donors, she said. A person can adopt a family in need and buy six toys per child with each gift having a value of up to $10.

People who want to give back but might not have the means to buy several gifts for a child can donate however much money they can afford, Laughery said. There is no amount too small or unimportant.

A job isn’t always enough

About 20 Waldo County families in need have contacted Laughery, eight of whom still need to be “adopted” or are still waiting for donations. The overwhelming amount of need in the state, with families contacting her in every county asking for help, surprised her and hearing their stories over the phone moved her.

One of those families is that of Amy Feener of Winterport, a single mother of two children for whom Laughery is still hoping to get donations. Feener works and told The Republican Journal she tries to be as financially independent as she can, but it is difficult when she is the only one supporting her children.

Feener's children attend school only two days a week, then learn remotely the rest of the time, she said. It has been difficult trying to juggle her job and find babysitters for her children, she said. Their father has helped take care of them when she is at work, but she is still finding herself acting as a teacher on top of being a parent and the sole household earner.

She is fearful that her family might contract the virus or be in a situation where they are exposed, which would require them to quarantine for one or more weeks, she said. Missing even one week of work would drastically decrease her ability to afford necessities.

In 2018, 13.9% of people in Waldo County lived in poverty, a rate that is 0.6% higher than the state average, according to the state’s Waldo County profile. There were 17,200 weekly certifications filed statewide for the week ending Dec. 12 in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, according to the Maine Department of Labor website.

Feener has bought a few Christmas gifts for her children in the form of things they need like bed linens, she said. But she wanted them to be able to open some toys, too.

Sometimes she feels like she should not need this type of assistance because she has a job and should be able to pay for gifts herself, she said. But she also realizes that her kids are in need, too.

“I feel like because I work I shouldn’t be asking — like I have a job,” she said. “A lot of other people don’t, but at the same time my kids need help, too.”

Dusting people with gifts

So far, Wine Fairies of Maine has received enough money to buy 600 toys for children, Laughery said. People have made donations from $10 to $500.

One Wine Fairy held a Grinch event in York County where people gave donations to take pictures with volunteers dressed as the Grinch, Cindy Lou Who and the small dog from the Grinch movie, she said.

The event was put together in just a week and participants followed COVID-19 social distancing and mask-wearing protocols, Laughery said. The volunteer was able to raise enough money to buy presents for every family in need in York County, she said.

Her favorite part of giving back is delivering presents and seeing people’s faces when they open the door, she said. Some gift donations are sent through mail, but she tries to deliver them to people’s doorsteps, then watch them open the door from a distance to see their reaction.

She has had only one incident where she felt someone was exaggerating their situation, she said. Their story was inconsistent with what they were posting on their Facebook page. But aside from that incident, she said, people have been honest with her and she has not had any others try to take advantage of her kindness.

Laughery is accepting donations until Christmas Eve, she said. People in need can contact her until Christmas Eve also, but she makes no promises that their request can be filled on such short notice.

She learned a lot from the event this year and knows what changes she will make to the program next year, she said. Her group has volunteers who donate their time to deliver gifts if they cannot donate money, so people are not limited in how they can give back.

“It’s a weird little group of people who all want to help in some way and it’s not always monetarily,” she said.

Laughery can be contacted through the Facebook group Wine Fairies of Maine.