Giving with a cheerful heart this holiday season - Republic-Times | News

Giving with a cheerful heart this holiday season

By on December 6, 2017 at 1:41 pm

Waterloo Optimist Club members and their families shopped for 14 families with a total of 35 children over the weekend, fulfilling their Christmas wishes. Toys for Tots chairman JR Wallace said many of the wishes from the children were for clothing items. (Kermit Constantine photo)

Monroe Countians continue to prove their generosity time and again through countless fundraisers and rallying around those in need of help.

But one time of year in particular brings about the giving spirit like no other. With Christmas around the corner, House of Neighborly Service Vice President Kelly Lerch said she is amazed at the amount of donations that came in for the organization’s annual holiday outreach program.

“I think the most amazing thing has been the incredible increase in the number of businesses, groups and residents who have come forward to adopt,” Lerch said. “It has simply been a huge task to keep up with the requests to help. 

“It has been busy and so rewarding. Monroe County has truly taken care of their own families this year in a big way.”   

Lerch said a total of 165 baskets and boxes of food were given out at Thanksgiving to adopted families. Additionally, HNS has more than 200 families it is serving for Christmas.

HNS’ partnerships have also expanded, with more businesses and organizations such as Explore Waterloo choosing to help support HNS efforts. The merchants group is doing a “Warm & Fizzies” event from 4-7:30 p.m. Thursday at participating businesses to benefit senior citizens in the community.

The event includes enjoying an appetizer, dessert or specialty drink while shopping. Recipes for the different snacks will be available for anyone wanting to make them for Christmas.

Suggested donations include Ensure, Depends, Denture Cream, warm gloves and other necessities. Go to the Explore Waterloo Facebook page for more information.

“We thought this would be a great time to collect donations for the elderly for the holiday season,” the event posting reads.

The Waterloo Odd Fellows are also assisting HNS clients in providing vouchers for free Christmas hams. According to Steve Crook, the organization has 100 hams available for the season.

“We are so fortunate that we have partnered with the Waterloo Odd Fellows, and we started a Sharing Cupboard at the sites of our senior apartments,” Lerch added. “We have a wonderful volunteer who makes sure we have a refrigerator and small pantry stocked with food so that seniors who are on limited income and may not have ways to get items they need have the opportunity to use this little pantry in their own complex.  

“Our volunteer is working to make contact with the seniors, find what their needs are, and with the generosity of the Odd Fellows, we are doing our best to meet the needs. This has been an amazing partnership to start.”

Toys for Tots
Some continuing holiday traditions in the community include the annual Waterloo Optimist Toys for Tots program. For the year, program chairman JR Wallace said the Optimists served 14 families with a total of 35 children. Waterloo Optimist Club members and their families shopped for the families over the weekend.

“It really makes you feel good,” Wallace said. “(My family) has been in a situation before where we needed help and by going through what we’ve been through, I appreciate being able to do this.”

To help fund the Waterloo Optimist Club’s efforts, Outsiders Tavern manager Butch Kunkel takes up a collection each year. Kunkel said he has taken in a total of $3,040 thus far and will continue collecting until the end of the year. Last year, he managed to collect a total of $5,360.

“We always try to do better than the previous year,” he said.

Monroe County EMS is also getting in on the toys for tots craze and is collecting new, unwrapped toys through Dec. 16. A toys for tots dropoff will be taking place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. Sunday at the Waterloo Walmart.

During the event, ambulance personnel will be stationed in front of the store to collect donations. Gifts can also be dropped off at 901 Illinois Avenue in Waterloo and the Monroe County Courthouse at any time. For more information, contact Monroe County EMS at 939-6175.

Columbia Caring for our Community
Each year, the Columbia Police Department and Columbia School District partner to assist local families in need through a food, clothing and toy drive. The drive assisted 17 families last year with $3,330 in donations.

This year, the school district and CPD have formed a non-profit partnership called Columbia Caring for Our Community to make the annual collections a more formal process, Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul said.

“The mission of Columbia Caring for Our Community foundation is to provide food, clothing, holiday gifts and educational supplies to school-aged Columbia children in need,” a flier about the organization states. “The guiding principle behind Columbia Caring for Our Community is to provide joy and comfort to the children within our community.”

As of now, $2,366.81 has been donated to the new non-profit. Paul said the group hopes to bring in more donations than last year.

“That’s the hope and we have more help than last year,” he said.

Before Christmas break, Columbia Middle School teacher Kelly Landgraf will take her sixth graders out caroling to collect donations for the drive. Contact Steve Patton or Jerry Paul at 281-5151, Kelly Landgraf at 281-4993 or Brad Landgraf at 281-4997 for more information.

“No donation is too small,” the flier continues. “The spirit of giving helps make it a Merry Christmas for everyone.”

So many giving opportunities like Columbia Caring for Our Community crop up in the county. But Lerch said the amount of support HNS is receiving this holiday season is beyond what she ever anticipated.

“This year has been a year like no other that I ever experienced. We have had so many people asking to help us,” she said. “We  have been contacted not only by civic groups, businesses, churches and residents who have adopted families, but so many other groups have asked to take up collections.  

“We have Girl Scouts who are coming in to wrap gifts, Daisy Scouts coming in to organize our donated toys and gifts, Explore Waterloo is collecting items for our senior citizens in need, and businesses are collecting board games to encourage family time and cookie baking items to encourage families to start Christmas cookie baking. 

“Schools are collecting for high school age students as that is a tough group to adopt, and there are personal hygiene collections and so much more. HNS was started with the thought that we would not take government funding so that we were not limited by restrictions. 

“Our communities are making this possible as we are taking care of our families and residents’ needs ourselves. We are so blessed to witness this all taking place and be part of a loving, caring community.”


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Sean McGowan

Sean is a die-hard Cubs fan, despite the relentless peer pressure coming from the rest of the Republic-Times staff. He and his wife, Jacqui, have been married for two years. Originally from the west suburbs of Chicago, Sean and his wife moved down to Normal to attend Illinois State University and stayed central Illinois residents for the past four years. email:sean@republictimes.net