Giving opportunities abound during holidays

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Pictured are volunteers from the Waterloo Optimist Club who went Christmas shopping Dec. 2 for local families in need. The club works with the Waterloo school district and House of Neighborly Service to fulfill the needs. The club shopped for 13 families this year. The gifts were wrapped by Students Helping Out Waterloo at Waterloo High School. (submitted photo)

The holiday season is a time of joy for many people, but for some it can be anything but. 

Monroe County residents are doing their part to help people who fall into the latter group have a merrier holiday season by giving to numerous charities and fundraisers. 

Some of the giving opportunities have recently concluded, but there are still plenty of ways to help the less fortunate this time of the year. 

Waterloo Rotary Club
One easy way people can give is by donating to the Waterloo Rotary Club’s Tree of Lights campaign, which launched Nov. 25.

This annual fundraiser has a goal of $40,000 this year, with about $12,000 already being donated. 

“It is a blessing to this group,” Waterloo Rotary Club President Brian Charron said of the giving. “We’re honored that the community places this much trust in our organization, and we’re proud of the fact that 100 percent of that money goes to either individuals or groups that are in need or to other organizations that, in turn, provide assistance to needy individuals.”

Donations for that effort may be dropped off at State Bank of Waterloo or First National Bank of Waterloo. 

Waterloo Optimist Club
The Waterloo Optimist Club recently wrapped up its Toys for Tots efforts in partnership with House of Neighborly Service.

The club bought gifts for 13 families with a total of 31 children.

Another fundraiser, however, is still progressing. 

Patrons of the Outsiders Tavern in Waterloo can contribute to what proprietor Butch Kunkel calls the “living tree.”

Kunkel has been doing this fundraiser, a variation on a giving tree, since 2011, raising more money each time.

This year, he has already received $4,700. 

“The customers at the Outsiders, we call them family, they’re always very charitable people,” Kunkel said.

That money is donated to the Waterloo Optimist Club, which, in turn, donates any leftover funds to HNS. 

The fundraiser runs until the end of the year. Stop by the pub to donate. 

Saint Vincent de Paul
Outsiders patrons may also donate to another effort put on by the establishment, this one benefiting the Saint Vincent de Paul food pantry. 

About 400 items have already been donated. That effort also goes until the end of the month. 

The Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Waterloo has also collected gifts from parishioners at Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church to distribute to  children in East St. Louis who attend The Griffen Center after school program. 

Over 400 children attend the after school program, and Ss. Peter & Paul Parish in Waterloo is just one of the churches that supports it through a Christmas Angel toy drive. 

The center is an agency of Catholic Urban Programs that helps the poor, homeless and elderly in East. St. Louis. 

Columbia Caring for Our Community
Another opportunity that the Republic-Times reported on last week is with Columbia Caring for Our Community.

The nonprofit, a collaboration between the Columbia school district and Columbia Police Department, helps provide Columbia children with clothing, food, holiday gifts and educational supplies. 

Donations may be dropped off at the police department or at the district office inside Parkview Elementary School. 

HNS
House of Neighborly Service facilitates several of these efforts, and it operates some of its own. 

Its Holiday Outreach program saw 250 families get adopted by individuals or organizations, which will provide gifts to those people.

All those families are from Monroe County. The youngest child in is three months old, while the oldest are college age. 

Leftover gifts were made available at the HNS office for families who were not adopted but need gifts.

“It’s just amazing that people call and adopt families,” Jan Dudley of HNS said. “People just stop when they’re shopping and pick up extra gifts and bring them. That’s not anything we have to solicit.”

Although that opportunity is over, students at Waterloo High School can still help HNS by bringing gifts for high school students until Dec. 14. 

These gifts should not be wrapped. They will be turned in to WHS Assistant Principal Alan Guehne. 

Waterloo Odd Fellows
One of the organizations assisting HNS is the Waterloo Odd Fellows, which is supplying 100 bone-in hams. 

The Odd Fellows gave most of the hams to HNS to distribute to those in need, although it focused on one demographic in particular. 

“This year, most of our hams are going to elderly folks,” Steve Crook of the Waterloo Odd Fellows said. “We’ve seen through HNS that elderly is a niche that has kind of been overlooked. They’re finding there’s quite a need for support of the elderly.”

The organization will also have hams available for pick-up this Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon next to the Capitol Theater in downtown Waterloo. 

Monroe County EMS
Monroe County EMS put on a final fundraiser, as it had a booth at Walmart Dec. 2 and Dec. 9 for people to drop off new and unwrapped toys. 

Individuals could also have dropped them off at the Monroe County EMS office or at the courthouse. 

The effort, which stopped Dec. 11, helped Toys for Tots. 

Monroe County EMS received more toys than its collection box could hold and had to fill up multiple shopping carts. 

According to Dudley, the contributions countywide are just another example of residents’ generosity. 

“It is so awesome,” she said. “We live in such a wonderful place.” 

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