Many ways to give this Christmas

With Christmas fast approaching, the season of giving is in full swing, and various charities and other organizations throughout the community are rushing to gather donations to make sure everyone can enjoy the holidays.

Perhaps the largest local charity is Monroe County House of Neighborly Service, which is doing its own collections while also working with other organizations for a number of projects.

HNS Executive Director Natalie Kawalec spoke about how many in the community require assistance of some kind.

HNS annually conducts its family adoption program, pairing needy families with those who are able to give a bit more to make sure kids and parents can have a better holiday season.

While the deadline for adopting a family has passed, those in the community are encouraged to donate whatever they can to make sure any individuals or families who reach out to HNS closer to Christmas can still be taken care of.

Kawalec said that folks can donate just about anything including food, toiletries, presents and, of course, money.

She spoke about the overall goal of HNS’s charity work, particularly during the holiday season. She noted how families can often be faced with an overwhelming number of problems and needs, which can be especially difficult to contend with through the holidays.

“We have a lot of families which have to choose, because they’re so tight on money, ‘Do I pay my rent check or do I pay for my cell phone?’” Kawalec said. “Sometimes they have to pick and choose. If we can help them with food, that’s one less thing they have to worry about. Then they have that money to pay off some bills. Every little bit helps.”

Kawalec went on to describe the impact donations to the organization can have, recalling one instance where a donor provided a crib for a client moving into a new apartment only to also donate money.

She also described a time some months ago where HNS requested a bike for one of its clients and received a wave of calls offering bicycles.

Clients, Kawalec said, can often feel embarrassed to accept help, though they often show thanks with many hugs and tears and tend to give back themselves when they can.

“A lot of them don’t want people to know that they’re asking for help, so it does take a lot for them to come in,” Kawalec said. “But they are very appreciative, and a lot of them, once they are on their feet again, then they give back. They come back in and donate to help another family.”

While HNS does charity work itself – funded thanks to direct donations as well as through donations to the Back Porch Thrift Store at 215 W. Mill Street in Waterloo – HNS also works with many other organizations in the community, either accepting donations or helping them with their work.

Kawalec noted the Waterloo Odd Fellows Lodge makes monthly donations through the year, contributing 100 hams at Christmas time so clients can have a nice holiday dinner.

She also mentioned local realtor Amy Hank, who recently donated a collection of coats, as well as St. Paul United Church Christ in Waterloo which made a considerable donation of Christmas gifts and other items.

“It’s amazing,” Kawalec said. “It’s community helping community. What comes in goes right back out.”

Another organization who assists HNS is the Waterloo Rotary Club which annually oversees its Tree of Lights collection.

Rotarian Mark Altadonna spoke about the club’s efforts, which just last year saw them surpass the $1 million mark in total Tree of Lights donations over the years.

This year, the organization hopes to reach its campaign goal of $47,000, which will then be distributed to a number of other groups in the community.

As Altadonna said, HNS, Human Support Services and the Waterloo High School Wellness Program each receive $2,500, and the remainder is split among organizations like the St. Vincent de Paul Society and various other food pantries or charity programs in the area.

“We feel very strongly about helping our neighbors in need, and we think that by underwriting the cost of this that the Rotary Club helps those families who are in need in the county and helps them be able to celebrate a little merrier holiday than they otherwise normally would,” Altadonna said.

Donations to the Waterloo Rotary Club are accepted through the year with no specific deadline for the Christmas season. Checks made out to Waterloo Rotary TOL can be sent to State Bank at P.O. Box 148 in Waterloo.

The Waterloo and Columbia police departments are also accepting donations this holiday season.

The annual Columbia Caring for Our Community program seeks to make sure that all kids in this community are able to receive presents at Christmas.

Columbia Police Chief Jason Donjon said the program will be doing shopping up until Christmas. Donations can be made at the Columbia Police Department.

Waterloo, similarly, is conducting its Shopping with a Cop program, with a list of families provided courtesy of HNS.

As Waterloo Police Sgt. Shaun Wiegand explained, the department pairs each family with at least one officer and, following a planned pancake breakfast, they go shopping, with the children picking out what they would like for presents.

Families who are particularly struggling can receive additional support, and officers all try to grab a surprise gift for the kids after they’ve gone shopping.

“Our goal is just to really brighten the holiday season for some kids and their family and really help build that bond between the community and the police, show these kids there’s a lot more to us than just being the police,” Wiegand said.

For those looking to donate, checks can be made out to the City of Waterloo with the memo “Shop with a Cop.” Donations will be accepted through Dec. 16.

Many other organizations are also conducting charity programs of their own.

Monroe County EMS is gathering presents for its annual Toys for Tots initiative. Donations can be sent or delivered to the ambulance garage at 901 Illinois Avenue in Waterloo as well as several other drop-off locations listed on the department’s Facebook page.

Outsider Tavern in Waterloo is once again hosting its Giving Tree, which supports the Waterloo Optimist Club and their holiday charity.

Additionally, Limitless Chiropractic – with locations in Waterloo and Red Bud – is accepting gently-used warm clothing, blankets and other supplies for homeless individuals in the community.

As the holiday season is already underway, a number of organizations have already conducted big charity drives and programs.

Two businesses – Waterloo’s Clean Car and Millstadt’s Schubert’s Smokehouse – are donating hams to HNS.

Several churches have also been doing their Christmas charity, like St. Paul UCC in Waterloo, who, as previously mentioned, made a sizable donation to HNS.

As Linda Mueller with the church explained, a recent youth group fundraiser collected enough funds that they were able to purchase roughly $3,200 in gifts for families.

The church also regularly supports HNS, and recently provided 100 baskets for their Thanksgiving charity program.

Anna Weatherford with New Life Church in Waterloo spoke about that church’s recent work as well as members contributed to Operation Christmas Child, which is organized by the international organization Samaritan’s Purse.

The program involves filling shoeboxes – or similarly sized containers – with various gifts, school supplies and other items. A Bible is also included in these boxes, and they are then sent to countries around the world.

This year, Weatherford said, the church was able to pack 300 boxes for the program.

“The church got involved actually the very second year it was open, and we’ve been doing it all that time,” Weatherford said. “We love doing it. We feel like we’re blessing children around the world and also giving them an opportunity to learn about Jesus. Many of these children have never received a gift before, so it brings them great joy. And I personally enjoy doing it because I feel like I’m investing in the lives of young children and giving them hope.”

Still another organization is the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Ann Limestall discussed some of its efforts as they have worked with Catholic Urban Programs through the Diocese of Belleville to help students in after school programs get presents for Christmas.

The organization also assists and works with HNS, adopting several families each holiday season.

Limestall noted how important it is for folks to donate for the good of their neighbors.

“I would encourage people to consider, especially at this time of year, that there are people in need,” Limestall said. “I think a lot of us think ‘Well we have a really prosperous community,’ and we do, but there are still people that need.”

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web