Gift baskets help to ensure a merry Christmas for all
GRANVILLE — The annual distribution of Christmas baskets in Putnam County is most closely related to the Putnam County Food Pantry, but providing them to roughly 130 families a year is a joyful task that involves several groups and dozens of volunteers.
Food Pantry President Gayle Reno said this was the project’s 31st year, and each year she’s been touched by the generosity shown throughout the county. Reno said the first year of the Christmas project delivered 50 baskets, and the project has grown substantially since then.
“We’ve got so many wonderful people involved with helping to make all of this possible. The people of this county are so generous, you just have to ask and you’ve got it,” she said.
Each year the volunteers collect the applications for baskets that identify how many are in a family and a wish list of what types of gifts they’d like to receive. After donations are received and the gifts are collected, they’re sorted, wrapped and then placed with the Christmas food baskets for later distribution.
Every gift basket contains food for a breakfast and a Christmas dinner, along with a toy and a piece of clothing for each child and a gift for each senior in the family and other items.
This year, each family member also received a new pillow as part of the Putnam County Rotary’s grant-funded Pillow Project.
During a conversation Rotary President Brandy Sandberg had with the coordinator of the Toys in the Pantry project, it was mentioned many of the children had said they’d be willing to trade their toys for a good pillow.
“This is one of those moments that made me realize how fortunate I am, yet so sad that the basic need, such as a pillow, sometimes is unattainable for some,” Sandberg previously said.
She added pillows are a basic need because sleep is a basic need, and that doctors believe a lack of sleep impairs cognitive function and leads to adverse physical conditions. Pillows, while important for all, are especially important for children and seniors.
During the Dec. 12 gift-wrapping night at Granville’s United Church of Christ, the Sandberg family unloaded a trailer containing 385 new Serta pillows.
“Basically, there’s enough here that every family member should be getting a new pillow for Christmas,” she said.
Reno added the goal for next year will be providing smoke detectors to each family.
When asked about the challenges and surprises involved with such a complex project, Reno said that after 30 years she didn’t think she could be surprised anymore.
“Everyone involved is so helpful with this, and even though we always put a deadline on the applications to receive a basket, there’s always some that come in afterwards and we’re not going to deny them. We just go to the store and get what we need. If you have kids, you’ll get gifts,” she said.
Reno said what makes it all worthwhile is seeing the reactions of the families, seniors and shut-ins as they receive their baskets.
“Last year we had some bicycles, and seeing the tears in a mother’s eyes when she told us she didn’t think she’d have anything for her children on Christmas was so moving. And for some of the shut-ins in the county, we’ll be their only contact, so it’s very special when they come to the door,” she explained.
Volunteer gift wrapper and Rotarian Brenda Bickerman has been helping to spread the season’s cheer for 10 years.
“It’s just a good thing to do, and I enjoy it. I like that it reaches every corner of the county,” she said.
“It’s really nice it’s a centralized group that’s helping our own community members to have a nice Christmas with their families,” third-year volunteer Carly Neubaum said as she wrapped a present.
Other groups helping to ensure the success of this year’s various combined efforts include pantry volunteers, Toys in the Pantry volunteers, the United Church of Christ, Putnam County High School FFA members, the Hennepin Methodist Church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, St. Patrick’s Church, Hennepin Foods, PC Foods and undoubtedly the many other businesses and individuals who have quietly helped make Christmas possible for many Putnam County families.