Every year the community reaches out to help those who are in need.
One of the most successful of those program, and our personal favorite down here, is the annual Shop With A Cop program.
Originally put together by the police department, in more recent years its leadership has moved into the hands of Mary Morin and her staff at Pioneer Federal Credit Union.
With a broadbased board to help, Morin and her team raise as much money as they can during the year, funds that come from both local businesses and individuals. They try to keep enough "seed money" left over each year to make sure the program can keep going, but the vast bulk of what they raise throughout the calendar year goes to the kids. Because that's what it's all about for everyone who participates. The kids come first.
How many kids they can serve is based on the generosity of the community, but there's never enough money to go around to meet all the needs. The program relies on different agencies around town to help identify the children most in need. It's rarely the same kids from one year to the next, as every family has changing circumstances. But in today's economy, there are a large number of families that are stressed to provide anything resembling an adequate Christmas for their children. An IOU from Santa until February or March just doesn't cut if for a little kid.
But the really great thing about this program is how much the kids enjoy buying presents for others. It's actually tough to get them to buy anything for themselves. Mom and dad and their siblings have a higher priority for most of these kids.
The program helps buy or acquire gift cards for the kids not only at Wal-Mart, but at Paul's Market so the family can get some food for the holidays, and the families also get a movie at Take One Cinema. McDonald's helps out with the breakfast for Santa and Idaho Power is a key contributor to the program.
So Mary and her team and all the emergency service volunteers in town, on base, and elsewhere, get the satisfaction of putting some smiles on some kids faces who were facing a bleak holiday. And it's pretty tough not to walk away from a day with the kids without a little tear in your own eye for what it means to these kids.
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Another huge project for the holidays is raising enough food for the local food pantries to meet the needs of the area's poor over the Christmas season -- and beyond.
At one time, there was the Cheer Basket Project, a centralized and coordinated effort to put food on the table of the area's needy. It was a mammoth undertaking, and the people who last were in charge of it ran out of energy and couldn't find anyone else to pick up the ball.
So today, you get a lot of individual efforts. Some are businesses that collect non-perishable food. Others are groups and organizations. The schools do a boom business collecting food.
In the end, it may not be centrally coordinated anymore, but those pantry shelves get filled by the sheer will of effort of hundreds of people in the community.
This area has two food pantries -- one run by El-Ada Community Action Agency, one of the basic welfare services in the city, and the other by Grace Lutheran Church. The church does not limit its food distribution to its own members. They don't ask what religion you belong to. All they want to know is if you need help.
The long lines outside both those pantries on distribution day is a testament to the need.
What's ironic is that during the holidays that need is largely met. But it doesn't go away the day after Christmas. That need is year round. The holidays bring out the best in people, but that best shouldn't be restricted to just this time of year. We need a food drive every month.
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Finally, there's the Chamber's Giving Tree program. That's an effort to help give families a merrier Christmas by putting together gift baskets for needy families. It goes beyond kids. It includes adults, and many times lonely senior citizens for whom a small gift can truly brighten their day.
Don't forget the Giving Tree on your list.
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Missing in all of this is any coordinated effort to provide toys for children at Christmas. The Giving Tree focuses on clothing and other necessities (they won't turn down toys, however).
For many years, the Santa's Workshop program made sure kids got toys, and in the old days the Giving Tree program also put a heavy emphasis on new toys for the kids. But the people who ran Santa's workshop got old and/or died, and no one picked up the slack.
The Giving Tree now focuses its efforts on necessities.
You hear a lot about Toys for Tots, the excellent Marine Corps program, but very few of those toys collected here get returned to this community. At least not directly. There's usually a small distribution at one of the churches on Airbase Road, and sometimes we're told, the El-Ada staff has, in the past, driven some families down to Boise where the main distribution is held. But Boise is where the toys and collected and most of them disbursed. You can count on the fact that all those toys are going to good homes, but usually this community winds up being a net exporter of the toys.
So for someone or some organization out there looking for a major project, one that will eat up huge amounts of time and effort, reviving the Santa's Workshop in some form would meet a holiday need not being adequately served at present.
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In the end, however, there are few communities that can claim such a widespread effort to help those less fortunate, to truly participate in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Once all the programs are added up, along with all the people who donate something, it literally amounts to thousands of people who reach out to help others. For all of you, thank you. Have a happy holiday, and a very Merry Christmas.