By Emily Bialkowski
For a quarter century volunteers have set out about the county making sure children, elderly and the disabled have the same magic-filled Christmas as everybody else.
For various reasons, ranging from sudden medical expenses to loss of job, hundreds of local families face the holidays in despair pouring over ways to make sure their kids have something to open and a filling meal for Christmas.
Enter Houston County Care & Share, who is celebrating their 25th anniversary of helping those in need.
The goal of Care & Share is to provide each child with clothing and a toy or gift certificate. The group also purchases grocery gift certificates for each family to help fund a Christmas dinner. When possible Care & Share helps with stocking stuffers and/or a family board game.
Jenny Slabaugh, president of the Care & Share committee, said the organization operates like a machine with each committee member using their talents to push the operation forward, from creating Christmas tree tags to sending out letters.
“Everybody kind of takes a piece of it, and somebody always steps up,” Slabaugh said.
The committee consists of about 17 regulars, and many, many more step up to help closer to the holiday.
“I think we get a really good response from the community. It seems each year we get more and more churches who want to put a tree up, which is wonderful because the more of those we get, the less gifts we have to go out and buy on our own. Our shoppers said last year they had less shopping to do because so many people bought gifts,” Slabaugh said.
Banks and churches all over Houston County put the trees up with tags on them describing a gift need, such as boys size 3T blue jeans or Barbie doll for six-year-old girl.
Volunteers then collect all the gifts and bring them to the basement of Merchants Bank in Caledonia where the magic begins.
All the items are sorted by category and size, and then volunteers “shop” and compile requests from each family.
“Packing day is sight to see. It becomes a little store down there,” Slabaugh said, adding that support is growing each year with businesses sending checks before they are even asked.
This good will is truly appreciated by the families who receive help. Slabaugh said quite often tears accompany the exchange.
“I want to let people know how grateful families are for the gifts – it’s hard to ask for help. The families are so, so appreciative,” she said.
The more donations that are received, or gifts purchased, the more money there is left to purchase the families grocery gift cards. Last year clients received $50 toward Christmas dinner because Care & Share had enough donations to do that.
With Food Shelf requests on the rise, Slabaugh predicts a greater need will be realized in 2012. In 2011 the organization served 283 households in Houston County, which included 429 children and 98 elderly/disabled persons.
All money donated is put into the program other than the cost of stamps, envelopes, paper, ribbon and garbage bags. Those who are served remain anonymous with less than a handful of committee members actually seeing the names on applications.
It won’t be long before residents will see those trees pop up around the county, but in the meantime monetary donations can be sent to Houston County Care & Share, 138 East Main Street, Caledonia MN, 55921.