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Lakeland Sharing’s Christmas Program returns

November 08, 2019 by Delaney FitzPatrick

From 2001 to 2017, the Lakeland Sharing Foundation brought joy in the form of Christmas gifts to children in need across the Lakeland Area School District. In 2018, due to lack of volunteers, the organization canceled its annual Christmas Program.

Now, one year later, the Christmas Program has returned with a brand new board, a more efficient process and a mission to serve additional families. 

This past August, The Lakeland Times published a press release announcing that Lakeland Sharing would be hosting a meeting to discuss the appointment of a new board and the organization’s future. Several community members stepped forward and over the course of two meetings, the new board was elected.

The current board includes president Jason Hesch, vice president Mindy Anderson, secretary Becky Doman, treasurer Cathy Gelinas, Erika Peterson, Ginny Kopp and Andrea Reuland. The only true newcomers to the foundation are Hesch and Peterson — the other five board members have volunteered with Lakeland Sharing several times in years’ past.

The board has already gotten to work in bringing the program back to life. 

“We just wanted to make sure that the program was resurrected and available to the kids who need it,” Anderson said. 

A fresh start

To ensure the program’s longevity this time around, the board is introducing a more streamlined process that will benefit families and cause less strain on volunteers. 

As always, community members are encouraged to donate toys, which can be placed in one of the navy blue Lakeland Sharing collection boxes throughout the Lakeland area. In 2017, there were 30 separate donation box locations, but this year there are only eight total. 

Donation boxes were distributed last week and can be found at five local businesses: Harley Davidson (Arbor Vitae), Incredible Bank (Minocqua), Peoples State Bank (Minocqua), Park City Credit Union (Minocqua), and Slumberland Furniture (Minocqua). There are also three school donation box locations: AV-W Elementary School (Arbor Vitae), MHLT Elementary School (Minocqua), and North Country Montessori (Woodruff). 

Donation boxes will be up through Christmas. 

Instead of accepting both new and gently used toys, Lakeland Sharing is now only accepting the former. 

“We’re asking for new, unopened donations because we don’t have the manpower to go through all the used stuff,” Hesch explained. 

In order to accommodate these changes, there will be a different pickup process for families as well. 

This year, families will preselect gifts from a list of toys and other items with assigned point values. The amount of points a family receives is dependent its number of children. Each family’s gifts will then be packaged prior to pickup. 

“It’s like ordering groceries from SaveMore,” Anderson said.

The Lakeland Pantry will also be distributing Trig’s gift cards on pickup days.

The board hopes this new system will ensure the nonprofit’s dollars and volunteer hours stretch as far as possible, enabling more families to celebrate a happy Christmas come December.

Greater impact

In addition to restructuring the process, the rookie Lakeland Sharing board is also aiming to serve more children and families than ever before.

In 2017, the Christmas Program provided gifts to 1,047 children in need, all of whom qualified for free-and-reduced lunch at their schools. Hesch estimated that anywhere from 700 to 800 families received invitations for the Christmas Program that year.

As part of their effort to support a greater number of families, the board has lifted the free-and-reduced lunch qualification. Now, Lakeland Sharing simply serves families in need, identified by the district elementary schools. 

The schools are also responsible for mailing out invitations, which maintains families’ privacy. Every child and family remains completely anonymous to the Lakeland Sharing Foundation.

Nearly 1,100 invitations were distributed this year. One invitation is sent per family, meaning the number of children who will receive gifts from Lakeland Sharing will likely be far greater. 

A community effort

Lakeland Sharing is a 501 3(c) nonprofit and is entirely donation-based. Only 5% of donations go toward overhead, which leaves 95% of donations to be used directly for the Christmas Program, as well as a Backpack Program, which supplies students with backpacks and school supplies each fall. 

Donations for each program come from “the community and from the service clubs and individuals,” Anderson said. “The community has been super generous over the years.”

All work is done exclusively by volunteers and Lakeland Sharing is always looking for another set of helping hands. 

To ask about volunteering opportunities, contact [email protected] com or call 715-277-3434. To learn more about Lakeland Sharing, visit www.lakelandsharing.org. 

Monetary donations are accepted year-round and can be mailed to P.O. Box 1536, Woodruff, Wisconsin 54568. Checks should be made out to Lakeland Sharing Foundation. All donations, including toy donations, are tax deductible.

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