The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

November 19, 2011

Gift-giving programs in demand (and how to help)

MANKATO — While the holiday season may spark thoughts of Christmas shopping and lists for Santa, a good chunk of south central Minnesotans are signing up for a list they’d probably wish they weren’t a part of.

Whether it’s at county human services departments or the Salvation Army, this is the time of year when families or individuals who anticipate not being able to purchase Christmas gifts for their loved ones sign up to make the list of one of the various gift-giving programs in the Mankato area.

Whether it’s the Holiday Sharing Tree, Toys for Tots or Santa Anonymous, gift programs abound, and the word from some of them is that, like most years recently, demand is up.

“(The counties) are saying we’re seeing an increase in need over last year,” said Liz Brown, coordinator of the Holiday Sharing Tree.

And this year, because of how the dates and holidays fall, there are fewer days between the time they make Sharing Tree cards available and the day, Dec. 17, when all cards taken must be returned with a gift.

Luckily, the program has a stable of willing, repeat volunteers, such as Diane Olsen of Mapleton.

Olsen and her sisters adopt a family each year and make sure that family has all their Christmas gift-giving needs met.

“We were going to do it and we thought, heck, let’s do a family,” Olsen said. “We love doing it.”

They make it kind of a girls’ day out, Olsen said, throwing in a lunch while they shop.

And usually it doesn’t just stop at gifts.

“Last year for our family we did tie blankets, and we made a lot of them,” she said. “We do it because we enjoy doing it, and sometimes I think we go overboard. It’s hard not to. When they want a sweatshirt or a pair of jeans, well a 6-year-old kid needs a toy, too!”

Brown said she’s also gotten a boost from area schools.

Last year at Dakota Meadows Middle School they held an event called “Penny Wars,” where classes competed by bringing in pennies for the Holiday Sharing Tree program. Collectively, they were able to fill 50 needs. And at Franklin Elementary School, they designed homemade cards and sold them. The entire profit, about $100, they donated to Holiday Sharing Tree.

Brown went to the school that day to pick up the money.

“And when I got back out to my car,” she said, “I just started sobbing.”

Santa Anonymous has also experienced some generosity.

That program is run out of the Salvation Army, which screens recipients to determine eligibility (Santa Anonymous, like the Holiday Sharing Tree, has income guidelines to determine eligibility.)

All gifts for Santa Anonymous will be distributed on Dec. 20 and 21. Unlike some programs, Santa Anonymous’ distribution is done via a client-choice system.

“The parents aren’t just getting handed a bag with toys,” said Darcy Kies, program coordinator. “They get to pick out what’s best for their child.”

And because the program is run out of the Salvation Army, families are also encouraged to pick up Christmas food baskets, a program the Salvation Army has been running for many years.

In addition to toys and food, the program works in conjunction with the Friends of the Library to provide families with books for their children. And finally, each family is sent home with at least one knitted item per child (hats, mittens or scarves.)

Like Brown, Kies also said they’re expecting demand to be up a little.

“It’s similar to past years in that it’s slightly up, and I think it’s more of a mix. A lot of new faces and people who haven’t registered in the past,” Kies said. “The need is still great this year. It hasn’t gone down.”

Toys for Tots has also been operating in the Mankato area for many years.

REMAX Area Experts is hosting the second annual Toys for Tot’s Holiday Event, with the U.S. Marines, Santa and his elves, Christmas house, kids music, games and prizes, free hot chocolate, cookies and more.

It is also a collection night for toys. It takes place 4-7 p.m. Dec. 1 in the REMAX Area Experts parking lot at 1635 N. Riverfront Drive.

RE/MAX Area Experts is the official drop-off site for Toys for Tots. 

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