Tree of Lights hits $1 million

The Waterloo Rotary Club’s annual Tree of Lights charity drive reached $1 million in total donations this past holiday season, marking a major milestone for a project that’s been going since 1991.

Tree of Lights coordinator Mark Altadonna, who’s been a part of the drive for years now, offered a brief history of the campaign.

“It started several decades ago when a few Rotary members decided that around the Thanksgiving time they would put together baskets for Thanksgiving for people who maybe were in need,” Altadonna said.

That first year, he said, the Waterloo Rotary Club was able to bring in about $5,300. That sum has since grown to an annual goal of about $47,000.

All those funds go to a number of local charities, food pantries and other organizations.

According to a report from the Waterloo Rotary Tree of Lights campaign, the Waterloo Area Church Network and Hope Christian Church Food Pantry were the largest individual recipients this year, each awarded $4,000 from the funds.

Monroe County House of Neighborly Service, the Waterloo Senior Center and Life Network of Southern Illinois also received some of the more substantial donations at $3,800, $3,700 and $3,300, respectively.

Other recipients this year included Martha’s Kitchen at St. Paul United Church of Christ, the Waterloo Community School District Wellness Program and St. Vincent de Paul Society in Columbia and Waterloo.

In addition to these specific donations, the Tree of Lights campaign also provides funds for gift certificates which are distributed through three local organizations.

“We have gift certificates printed up around the holiday season that can be redeemed at any Monroe County merchant, and the wellness program at Waterloo High School, the House of Neighborly Service and Human Support Services each take $2,500 worth of those gift certificates and distribute through their clients around the holiday season,” Altadonna said.

Monroe County House of Neighborly Service Executive Director Tina Charron said the donations are a major help each year, with most of the funds put toward gas money for the organization’s clients.

“The Tree of Lights checks are extremely helpful to us as far as helping clients with gas,” Charron said. “We use a lot of them for gas vouchers, for families to be able to get back and forth to work. We’ve had some with medical needs and it helps them get back and forth to doctor’s appointments.”

Charron said the funds also tend to go toward dairy products, bread and eggs, perishables that aren’t regularly in HNS’s food pantry.

HNS also uses the funds to help individuals and families get hold of holiday essentials, according to Charron.

Altadonna remarked that the drive finally reaching the million dollar milestone is thanks to the community.

“It’s very exciting for the Rotary Club to have hit that milestone,” Altadonna said. “We think it’s a testament to the generosity of the people in Monroe County, and we’re pretty excited about having reached that milestone.”

He said that he expects to have a special expression of gratitude for donors when the Rotary Club appears in local parades this year.

Altadonna also noted that the mailing list of major contributors to the drive has shrunk in recent years as many of those donors have passed away.

He said the club might have to consider ways of expanding that list, getting a better idea of who in the community would be able to donate.

Those interested in giving a donation to the Tree of Lights campaign can look forward to doing so later this year when the drive starts up again around Thanksgiving.

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web