Local families receive holiday gift boxes

The Tree of Joy program distributed gifts to 240 children who asked for presents this year.

On Dec. 20, the Holiday Food Box and Tree of Joy programs stocked local families’ houses with presents and food boxes stuffed with holiday meal ingredients.

Throughout the day, cars drove past Trinity Lutheran Church where the gifts were loaded by volunteers into eager recipients’ vehicles.

The goal of the programs is to provide for low-income families during the holidays.

“Of course, the holidays are a tougher time,” said Executive Director of Community Sharing Mike Fleck. “Many folks will have family over. They’ll have greater needs for food. So this is just something we love doing.”

In November, families signed up and qualified for the food boxes by providing proof of income.

“We don’t turn anybody down,” said Fleck of qualifying families. “Everybody who applies will get a food box, period.”

While most of the food was purchased from Grocery Outlet, a portion of it is also a result of the community’s generosity.

“We try to save a lot of product from local donations throughout the year so that we don’t have to buy quite as much,” said Fleck.

In all, 228 food boxes were distributed, 31 of which were made for the LatinX community. LatinX is a gender-neutral alternative term for people of Latin American origin or descent.

The inclusion of Latin food ingredients came six years ago when members of the community found themselves at a loss with certain ingredients.

“We had some of our LatinX families say, ‘Gosh, what do I do with a turkey?’ to our LatinX family advocate,” said Fleck. “So we started this just as a holiday program, but now we do this all year round.”

Regular food boxes included cranberry, green beans, corn, bread rolls, margarine, potatoes, onion, celery, stuffing, broth, condensed milk, cake mix and a protein choice of either chicken or turkey.

In the LatinX box, the program provides masa, corn tortillas, beans, rice, margarine, potatoes, onion, celery, oil, green beans, corn, condensed milk and sugar.

The program uses county funds, donations and fundraisers to provide the wide array of food.

Fleck estimated that Grocery Outlet donated about a quarter of this year’s food products, which included 128 turkeys, 153 chickens, 100 pounds of butter, 300 pounds of potatoes, 150 pounds of yellow onions and 179 packages of dinner rolls.

Several dozen volunteers were involved in the program’s operation including high school and college students and members of Community Sharing, Trinity Lutheran Church, Bohemia Sunrisers Kiwanis and the Rotary Club of Cottage Grove.

The Tree of Joy program, which provides gifts for school-age children, stood Christmas trees in Walmart and Bi-Mart, decorated with tags of children’s present wishes which community members could pick and fulfill. Passers-by picked both trees clean and, on Friday, 240 children’s wishes were answered as presents were distributed to awaiting cars alongside the food boxes.

“They really fill a huge, huge area for us in providing the toys and presents to the kids,” said Fleck.

Community Sharing has been operating the Holiday Food Box since at least the 1990s as far as members can remember and will return next holiday season.

 “It’s a lot of work and it’s a really long day, but it’s so worthwhile,” said Fleck. “The benefit to the folks in the community is just wonderful. We’re thrilled to be able to provide it.”

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