During the holidays, many folks across the country get into the giving spirit by donating to charities and worthy causes. And that’s no different in Poynette.
Two local efforts that have been collecting Christmas gifts for children in need for years are serving families again this season. The Poynette Community Caring Tree, located at Hometown Bank, has been helping families for over 20 years now.
According to Jeannine Walters, a personal banker at Hometown Bank, the village’s American Legion Auxiliary used to organize the effort, but after the group stopped leading it, other organizations stepped up to keep it going. Walters is also the president of the Lowville Center Homemakers, the group that has been coordinating the program the past few years.
“It’s a program that was started close to three decades ago and when we learned that the Legion Auxiliary was not going to be doing it anymore, we felt there was still a need,” Walters said. “… We just wanted to continue with it because we felt it was a good service to the community and seemed to be a necessary thing.”
The bank is an ideal central location for the tree, according to Walters, but the homemakers group handles the details for the program. Typically families in need will approach the group to receive gifts, but Walters said they promote it socially, too. Columbia County Health and Human Services also knows about the tree, so individuals there assisting families can let them know about the service, according to Walters.
The caring tree’s recipients and donors remain anonymous, however. The tree is filled with ornament tags that only list a recipient’s age and gender, which help gift-givers purchase an appropriate item.
“Sometimes the person who fills out the form will give gift ideas to make it easier for the buyer,” Walters said.
This year, the caring tree will provide gifts for 18 individuals. That number is down compared to years previous, according to Walters, who said sometimes they’ve had around 40 recipients. She speculated the numbers could be down due to a better economy or other donation services in the area.
“Quite often the people asking to purchase gifts outnumber the ornaments on the tree,” Walters said. “We have a very giving community.”
Once donors bring back their wrapped gifts to the bank, the homemakers group picks them up and takes them to a church, where they are distributed to families. In addition to the presents, each family receives a Piggly Wiggly gift card, made possible by funds donated by a women’s organization within St. Thomas Church, according to Walters.
Although the deadline to return gifts to the bank has passed, Walters said people can help out the cause by spreading the word to potential recipients for next year’s caring tree.
“We plan to continue it as long as there’s a need and people come forward,” Walters said.
Local business holds toy/gift drive
In addition to the Poynette Community Caring Tree, there’s another long-standing local effort to provide children with Christmas gifts.
Poynette Iron Works has had a similar program running for 14 years now. Chuck Schubert had the original idea for the Poynette Iron Works Employees Toy/Gift Drive after he noticed some of the business’ employees were financially unwell. He wanted it to be an employee-sponsored program to get everyone involved.
“It was an immediate success,” Schubert said. “The part that always amazes me is those that you wouldn’t think could afford to give are usually the biggest donors because they’ve been recipients at some point in their life and they always want to pay it back.”
While the business’ program is still going strong over a decade later, Schubert said the amount of need in the community fluctuates each year. He recalls years they’ve provided gifts for 80 people and others when they’ve only had 20 recipients. This season the program will give presents to 69 individuals in 30 families.
Similarly to the Poynette Community Caring Tree, Schubert said the business uses social media and word-of-mouth to reach potential recipients. This year they teamed up with local school counselors to get the word out, too. Despite providing gifts for almost 70 individuals this Christmas, Schubert said the biggest struggle of the program is finding those in need.
While the end goal is the same, the Iron Works toy/gift drive is different from the caring tree model, according to Schubert. The business has a donation collection bin stationed at Poynette’s Piggly Wiggly, which is filled up with toys each year by community members. Although appreciated, those donations usually end up only providing appropriate gifts for infants and children younger than 5, according to Schubert.
“Needless to say, it’s not as easy to fill wishes for teenagers as it is for infants,” he said.
So, funds contributed by Iron Works employees are typically used to buy specific gifts for older children.
“Once our recipients fill out a request form, we do our best to actually match (gifts) as close as we can, within reason,” Schubert explained.
Additionally, by purchasing particular items, Schubert said children in the same family will receive gifts of similar value. However, the Iron Works toy/gift drive ends up with lots of extras because some donated gifts do not match well with recipients’ requests. But the surplus goes to a good cause – Schubert said all extra gifts go to the Hope House, an organization providing services to victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
If there are monetary donations left over, those funds also go to the Hope House and the local food pantry, according to Schubert.
Once the donated gifts are collected and others are purchased, the presents from Iron Works’ drive are wrapped and recipients’ parents pick them up.
To get involved with the business’ toy/gift collection, Schubert recommends people leave gifts at the Piggly Wiggly bin, or drop off monetary donations to the Iron Works’ office.
There’s one local donor, along with the help of a family member, who both asked to remain anonymous, that astounds Schubert each year. According to him, they provide three “massive” bags of toys each Christmas.
“It’s truly impressive to see (these donors) come in here,” Schubert said.
While the deadlines for this year’s recipient requests and donations have passed, Schubert said they’ve never turned anyone in need away. And Iron Works, with its 74 employees, plans to continue to the company-funded program well into the future.
“We try to keep it pretty simple and just do what we do and try to make a difference,” Schubert said. “That’s what’s important – community spirit. I’m very fortunate to have a company here that shares in my sediments. We have a very generous group here.”