‘Tis the season to be merry and generous Festival of Trees raises $25,000

By : 
Jordan Gerard

“’Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la – hey look how much Festival of Trees raised!”

Not only is it caroling season, but also giving season. A generous number of people turned out at the annual Festival of Trees event, with at least 120 people at the gala and more visiting the Fest Building for open viewing, Santa Clause visits, holiday treats and kids activities.

Festival of Trees raised more than $25,000, said Jacqui Van Minsel, treasurer. That amount will be divided equally among three Houston County groups and several other organizations.

Houston County Care and Share

Care and Share is going strong in its 31st year of giving toys to children who otherwise might not receive something new for Christmas. 

Last year, the program served 396 children in Houston County and 93 elderly or disabled individuals, according to Care and Share secretary and treasurer Jill Hahn.

“It always depends on the funds we have, but we like to give every family a grocery gift card to their local grocery store to help with Christmas dinner,” she said. “Every child deserves a nice Christmas. They deserve at least one new item for Christmas.”

Elderly and disabled individuals who do not have family to spend the holidays with are also helped by receiving grocery gift cards. 

Care and Share recently changed their program format in order to serve families better. After donations are received from churches and businesses, the items are sorted, and families are invited to shop for their families.

It used to be that Care and Share would deliver the items to each town and families could pick up the selected items, but the group felt they weren’t meeting the needs of the families correctly.

“Kids are getting what they are interested in versus what we think they are,” Hahn said. “We really thought we had a good response to that.”

It provides a better opportunity for families to truly pick what their kids want or need. It also makes less work for volunteers, as everything stays in one location in Caledonia.

Care and Share trees are available at various businesses. Pick up a tag, buy the item(s) listed and drop off at the same tree. Tags are due by Dec. 9 from churches and Dec. 10 from businesses.

If you miss your chance, donations of toys or money are still accepted. They can be dropped off at the Houston County Food Shelf in Caledonia or at Caledonia Haulers front desk for Hahn. 

If you know of a family in need this year who might not able to purchase toys or items for Christmas, talk to Hahn to see if they are already listed.

Factors affecting Christmas presents could be due to loss of a job, unexpected medical expenses or the fact that parents make enough to pay the bills, but don’t have enough leftover to afford presents.

“We are constantly helping up until the last minute,” Hahn said. “We try not to turn anyone down.”

The organization is again partnering with Toys for Tots, which is a non-profit organization run by the U.S. Marine Corps since 1947. The organization collects new, unwrapped toys and distributes the toys to less fortunate children all across the U.S. 

Care and Share has about 30 volunteers to cover collecting and sorting items, however, they always welcome more.

“It makes you feel good to know they are getting something for Christmas,” Hahn added. “I’d love to be there on Christmas morning and see their surprise.”

Hahn said it’s also fun to see children at church pick out tags and then shop with their families to pick out the toys.

Children learn the toys they buy and place under the tree are to give to other children who might not have gotten a Christmas present. 

“It’s been a lot of fun over the years,” Hahn said. “I always get excited when I see the toys come in.”

To donate, volunteer or to see if a family is on the list, call Hahn at 507-724-3157.

Houston County Ring and Run

Ring and run began their fifth year of cheering up people during the holidays with several events to raise funds. Whether it’s unforeseen illness, loss of a loved one or just burdens, Ring and Run brings cheer.

The city of Hokah hosted two events this past year, including a BBQ meal and serving food at the Hokah Fun Days celebration.

The next event is an eight-pin tap bowling tournament on Dec. 8, at Maad Alley in Caledonia. Cost is $20 per bowler ($15 for 12 and under) and there are three shifts available at 11 a.m., 2:30 and 6 p.m. Sign up at Maad Alley.

Raffles and 50/50 drawings will be held throughout the night, including a live auction between the second and third shift. Food will be available for a free will donation. All proceeds go to Ring and Run.

Founder Mark Buttell says the organization’s purpose of cheering up folks during the holidays has a humbling effect.

“It’s rewarding, but tough to go through that,” he said. “But once you’re done, Christmas really is fulfilled.”

He says he sees the passion lighted in new committee members who experience helping out recipients for the first time. 

Oftentimes, the organization directs recipients to services like the food shelf or human services if that is needed for the family. 

Sometimes the family receives a monetary gift or gift cards. If they recently experienced the loss of a loved one, a memorial item is given to the family.

Support for the group has increased from all over the county, including Spring Grove, Caledonia, Hokah and Brownsville. Next year, they hope to gather more support and more events in Houston and La Crescent.

“If an entity or someone comes up to us to get involved, we’ll discuss it with them and help out or support what they’re trying to do,” Buttell said. 

Contact Ring and Run on their Facebook page or call Buttell at 608-406-0518 to volunteer or donate. The group also has an open account at Merchants Bank, which can receive donations at any time.

Houston County Food Shelf (Semcac)

The food shelf consistently takes donations throughout the year and hosts several fundraisers and food drives including “Stuff the Bus,” “Open Your Heart” and business-hosted ones such as “Swipe Out Hunger” from Merchants Bank.

Donations from the student food drive also go to the food shelf through Channel One Food Bank, which serves food shelves in a 14-county area.

This year, Spring Grove Public School’s goal was 9,000 pounds of food donated. Several events including bake sales, Red’s IGA dinner sales and canvassing the town for canned goods have taken place.

Look for the results of the food drive in a future edition of the Herald.