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Gift Box Program ready for helping at holidays

Another busy holiday season is underway for the area's Gift Box Program.

The Hunger Prevention Council of Pierce County matches people in need with individuals and organizations willing to donate to help them through this seasonal effort. It provides Christmas gifts and meals to area residents who might otherwise go without.

"We've already gotten almost 100 applications," Coordinator Felicia Sather said Friday about interest from those needing help, agreeing demand is as great as ever.

Referrals to the program are being accepted by Sather at 273-5008, in addition to requests from sponsors willing to donate. During the holiday season last year, 227 households representing 797 people sought help. Among notable sponsors have been St. Bridget's Catholic Church in River Falls, the River Falls Journal and WestCAP. Other benevolent sources are involved, too.

"I've already started assigning families to sponsor," she said.

The Seyforth Building on the Pierce County Fairgrounds in Ellsworth will be the program's headquarters this year, according to the coordinator. Set-up day will be Tuesday, Dec. 12, and on that day plus Wednesday, Dec. 13, through Friday, Dec. 15, the headquarters will be open for donations to be accepted and sponsors to pick up items, as necessary.

Also during those weekdays, gift wrapping will be done by volunteers, she said. They are needed for shopping, sorting, phoning and driving delivery routes as well as organizing drives for food, blankets, toys, teen gifts, hats and scarves, gloves and mittens, and gift wrap. Skilled toy assemblers and other helpers will be appreciated, too. Clients from Northwest Counseling and Guidance Clinic, candidates for community service, W-2 participants and school students have joined the volunteer force in the past.

The delivery date will be Saturday, Dec. 16.

Sather said she attended a recent organizational meeting of agencies with similar purpose from Pierce and St. Croix counties in River Falls. Attendees there shared lists of referral possibilities, traded ideas, set deadlines and confirmed boundaries to avoid duplication.

The Toys for Tots organization, covering St. Croix County, was represented at the meeting, she said. Although there's no presence by that group in Pierce County, she encouraged the public to be generous with donations placed throughout the community by the local toy drive.

Churches, businesses, schools, groups and individuals all contribute to the Gift Box Program's success as sponsors, the coordinator said. They can get application forms from the county's human services and public health departments, Office on Aging, food pantries, CESA Head Start or Turningpoint in River Falls, or by contacting Sather. All applicants are considered on a case-by-case basis and no one will be entered into the program without their consent. Applicants should complete and return their forms as soon as possible.

Sponsors may choose to help an entire family, an individual or target a specific item, she said. Cash donations are especially appreciated because these can be used to buy goods for needy people without sponsors or help sponsors who are unable to fulfill all needs. Checks for these tax-deductible donations can be made payable to the Gift Box Program and mailed to Sather at N6729 530th St., Beldenville, WI 54003.

Sponsors helping needy recipients not in the program are asked to call her to register their names, as a courtesy to avoid duplication. Sponsors' wishes to be anonymous or recipients' requests to not have gifts labeled a certain way will be respected.

A United Way grant to the program has been designated toward Christmas meals, Sather said. Holiday meals are provided to needy families, in amounts depending on family size, besides gifts and other items.

"I'm looking to put together a team for next year," the first-year coordinator said about operating the program in the future. She believes an earlier start and a more proactive approach could be realized for the holiday portion of the year-around effort if there were more organizers.

Anyone interested can call her at 273-5008.