Extra generosity needed to meet rising demand

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 12/06/00.

All one little girl wanted for Christmas last year, she told Santa Claus, was for her grandfather to be cured of cancer.

Even Santa couldn't fulfill that request last year, and unless the community provides extra support this year even manageable requests from little boys and girls will be unfulfilled.

For years, the Paynesville Community Service Center has been trying to make the holidays merry for every child through their annual Christmas party. Rising demand means more generosity from the community is needed this year.

Sign ups indicate a 50 percent increase in attendance for this year's party, according to Donna Toney, the director of the Paynesville Community Service Center. Last year, 76 kids and 24 parents attended the party, and 116 kids and 45 parents are registered this year.

"We have a lot more people than we anticipated," said Toney, who praised the community's generosity in the past.

The party, which area churches take turn hosting each year, will be held this year at Paynesville Lutheran Church on Thursday, Dec. 14, starting at 3:30 p.m.

That leaves just a week for people to make a donation that could brighten a youngster's holiday season. Without the party, Toney thinks, some of the kids won't have Christmas at all.

The party features carol singing, craft making, treat eating, a visit from Santa Claus, and gifts for the children. The center relies on donated gifts to give away. "Basically, we give out what's given to us,"Ęsaid Toney.

In past years, there have been two drop-off spots in town: a box at Jacklitch Chiropractic Clinic and a tree at Community First National Bank.

This year there are additional boxes for presents at Ben Franklin and ALCO and a second tree at the Paynesville Office of the Melrose Credit Union.

The trees have cards with the age and gender, but not the name, of a recipient. This enables donors to purchase an appropriate gift, while maintaining anonymity.

Toney stressed the importance of labeling all wrapped presents with the appropriate age and gender of the gift. Without that, volunteer staff may have to unwrap and then rewrap the present to give it to the ideal child.

The Parental Involvement Committee at the elementary school is also selling Kindness Pillows to support the party. The pillows feature artwork by an elementary student and sell for $5, of which $4 will go to the center.

At Paynesville Farmer's Union (Cenex) stockings are hung to collect loose change from customers. That money will be given to the Paynesville Community Service Center to help with the party and food purchases.

"For us at the center, we can't purchase them," said Toney. "We don't have the money for that." The center's finances cover operating expenses like rent, food purchases, and shipping costs, she added.

As a matter of fact, Toney is not only worried about having enough presents for the Christmas party, but she believes there will be increased demand for food packages at Christmas.

She bases that on the 25 percent increase at Thanksgiving from a year ago. In 1999, the center provided 74 food packages for Thanksgiving, and they gave out 95 this year, an increase of 21.

Toney is expecting as many or more for Christmas. Toney does try to stock up on some food items throughout the year to use at the holidays, but the center is in need of brown paper bags, as it takes two or three for each parcel.

Typically, the center provides only 60 parcels of food per month, so the larger demand at the holiday season is a significant change.

The increase isn't just in Paynesville, according to Toney. She called the large food shelf in St. Cloud to see if they could provide some help and found them facing increased demand, too, and unable to spare any supplies.

Part of the increase, Toney said, is people moving to the area, including some from out of state. The ethnicity of recipients at the center is growing in diversity, too.

The plight of some people in the community is often overlooked, sometimes ignored, and frequently subject to misconceptions, Toney stressed. Contrary to the stereotypes, most of the center's recipients work.

"People think that economically it's good because unemployment is so low," Toney explained, "but a lot of people don't make enough to make ends meet."

"Most of our clients work," she emphasized, "but they can't make ends meet."

The center's clients include elderly residents, working couples, single mothers, struggling farmers, and 116 kids expecting Santa to arrive with enough presents on Dec. 14.

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