With Christmas quickly approaching, people are scurrying to get everything done…decorating, gifts, food, cards.
But for some families this season, there are the wrenching decisions about how much to spend for the kids’ gifts. The economy hasn’t been encouraging. Budgets are tight, but kids still expect a visit from Santa.
This year in the Miller area, Christmas may be a bit easier for families who are struggling. Administered through the Helping Hands Store, gifts have been made available free of charge for many families who want to put special gifts under the tree for their children. Gina Ortmeier explained, “We were offered new and gently used toys and games. An enclosed trailer full of toys, as well as coats, arrived to deliver the gifts. In fact, they had to get a larger trailer to bring everything.”
By “they,” she means the Johnson family from a Minneapolis suburb. Jennifer Johnson is the daughter of Bobbi and Gary Larson of Miller.
Jennifer had been visiting in Miller and asked about the Helping Hands Store. She was told everything is free there for any customer. But not many toys were on display.
In previous years, Jennifer has donated toys to organizations like the Salvation Army in the Cities.
So Jennifer decided to work toward obtaining gifts for the Miller area–for the local community. And, viola, it worked.
Gina Ortmeier said the gifts this year–which filled up the Miller Fire Hall meeting room–were dispersed to families who most needed gifts.
“It was a private-parent invite,” Gina explained. “We went through the Community Health Nurse, the WIC families. Vouchers were given and the families could come between 7 and 9 p.m. on December 14 and 15, and take what they needed.”
Coats and clothing were also donated, which will be available at the Helping Hands store.
“We wanted to reach families in the most need,” Gina explained. “We’ll see how this year goes, and how we might handle it in subsequent years.”
Any “left over” toys will be donated to area daycares and churches.
Jennifer’s mother, Bobbi, explained that Jennifer’s neighborhood held a community rummage sale, and Jennifer suggested any leftover toys be donated to charity. To her chagrin, she would find many of those items on a different rummage sale…people would take the free toys, then turn around and sell them.
Jennifer told her neighbors about her Miller project. “People started bringing things to her,” said Bobbi. “She received e-mails asking about donating. Then the local Rotary club joined in, and a third-grade classroom, which was studying about community service. It just mushroomed.”
The Miller Fire Hall was filled with games, Barbies and other dolls, stuffed animals, Transformers, and much, much more.
Bobbi said, “It was so wonderful. They received so many items that they couldn’t park their vehicles in the garage. The project just grew and grew.”
Jennifer was impressed with the wide variety of toys received. She personally went through every donation to make sure everything worked, everything had every piece included. She tried to limit the donations to toys that didn’t need batteries…which would be another expense for parents.
“Jennifer’s boys, ages 12 and 13, thought it was a great thing,” Bobbie related. “This way, they learn what giving is all about. They were so excited to bring the truck load of toys and coats to Miller.”
Bobbie has previously collected coats throughout North and South Dakota for children on reservations, dispersed through the Methodist Church. Her garage was also filled to overflowing.
“I am so proud of Jennifer,” Bobbie said, “and she replied, ‘But, Mom, you taught me with all those coats.’”
Helping Hands is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 to 5, and Thursdays from 10 to 4. It is also open the first Saturday of each month from 10 to 4, and will be open the third Saturday if dedicated volunteers step forward. Everything is free for the taking, although monetary donations are always welcome, and needed.
“Helping Hands is a wonderful addition to the Miller community,” Bobbie declared. “People don’t always realize what a service it is to those who need it. Donations are always welcome, from toys, foodstuffs, clothing and small household goods, to plastic bags to put the articles in, as well as money.” She added that the third-grade students back in Minneapolis are anxiously awaiting an update.
“I believe,” said Bobbi, ”that God provides us with what we have. And we’re supposed to give back as much as we can.”
Ruth A. Moller | The Miller Press
THE FIRE HALL ‘toy store’ was full to overflowing with gifts galore for girls and boys. Jessica Ortmeier, right, showed just a few of the many board games available.