Residents and businesses of Barnes County did the community well this past month by donating their time and money to several local charity campaigns held annually over the Christmas season. Almost all charity organizers said they’ve seen the need in the community go up, and local campaigns and programs have seen record numbers of donations this year.
The Barnes County Salvation Army saw its best year ever, according to Lee Isensee, Barnes County Salvation Army chairman. Isensee said the Salvation Army also saw its largest single donation this year. An anonymous donor gave $7,500 to the Salvation Army Wednesday, after the campaign had ended, bringing its already record-breaking total from $46,142.70 to $53,642. That number is up from last year, when the Salvation Army raised $44,019.41. Before that, the best year raised $26,413, Isensee said.
The campaign began Nov. 23 and ended Dec. 24 at 1 p.m. Isensee said the money raised is “used for the needs of the less fortunate in the community,” by helping them with costs associated with utilities, rent, health care needs, transportation and food.
“We’re just very, very gracious for the city of Valley City and Barnes County,” Isensee said. “They really stepped forward and we just want to say thank you to all of them.”
Pat Hansen of the Barnes County Food Pantry said the Salvation Army has been very helpful with the pantry this year. The food pantry also received donations from several food drives, including two “stuff a truck” campaigns held in November.
Valley City Public School students stuffed a Coca-Cola truck with 109 tubs of food Nov. 14 for the food pantry during its annual food drive.
Students in grades K-12 along with students from St. Catherine’s Elementary School, Maple Valley Public Schools, Barnes County North Public Schools and the public spent weeks prior collecting non-perishable food and money for the project that was organized by the Valley City High School Student Council.
The campaign brought 4,395 items and $370 in cash.
Leevers Foods also held a food drive from Nov. 5-25
“We turned in well over 500 pounds to the food pantry,” store manager Rick Idland said. “We did pretty good, and everybody’s participation helped. We were pretty pleased.”
With help from the Salvation Army, food drives and private donations, Hansen said “(The food pantry) actually did quite well. I’m hoping that we’ve got close to enough that we’ll be able to pay off the Christmas boxes.”
The Barnes County Food Pantry donates food baskets to Barnes County Social Services during the Christmas holiday season to help eligible families in need.
The food pantry filled 236 boxes this year, Hansen said, which is up 25 from last year.
“It’s very expensive because it usually costs us about $20,000 just to purchase food for the boxes,” she said. Plus, they get a slip for the grocery stores to purchase fresh vegetables and dairy products.
She said that while the need has gone up in the community, donations have remained steady.
“We had a really good year about four years ago that kind of has helped us the past couple years,” Hansen said, but the reserve is gone now, and the pantry is operating on a month-to-month basis.
Hansen said regardless, people have been very responsive to calls for donations.
“We are grateful for the community’s support that we get because we don’t get any other funding,” she said.
In addition to food and money, locals also donated mittens and toys to help other charity campaigns.
Barnes County Social Services held a “tag tree” campaign at Shopko this year, where they filled about $350 worth of present wishes for 102 families in need. The campaign began Nov. 21 and ended Dec. 18. Social Services distributed the gifts on Dec. 19.
“This year things had to go a little bit differently because of Shopko taking over,” Katie Pommerer, human service aide for Social Services, said. “We ended up pulling 11 tags from the tree and Barnes County Social Services filled those because we weren’t able to receive funding from the Shopko Foundation.”
Dacotah Bank donated the money to Social Services to fill all 11 tags.
“So, wow, that was amazing,” Pommerer said.
Rosie Larson, coordinator of Valley City’s “mitten tree,” said she’s seen donations rise this year too.
“It was just wonderful this year, it was just unreal,” she said.
The mitten tree is a campaign started by local, independent charity organization Valley City Cares, run by Larson, that helps those in need with a drive for mittens, hats, scarves and even toys during the holiday season.
Larson, who has organized the event for the past 35 years, said she received 63 hat donations, 19 scarf donations, 214 mitten donations, 17 hat and mitten sets and numerous toys, socks, boots, shoes and jackets.
The tree was located at First Community Credit Union, where people could drop off donations, and there were four other drop-off sites, including Larson’s home.
Because the organization is not government-affiliated, she gave the donations to 15 families she chose herself based on need. Larson said those families also distributed to more families they know.
The mitten tree was put up Nov. 28 and stayed up until Christmas. Larson said she’s done most of the distribution already, but “usually we keep a lot of them here (at her house) because people can always use hats and mittens.”
Larson runs the campaign with the help of her husband Daryl. She said she plans to keep the mitten tree running as long as she’s able.
Local law enforcement also played a part in helping the needy during the Christmas season.
The Barnes County Sheriff’s Department held a “deputies’ secret Santa” campaign for the second year in a row.
Participating deputies spent the first couple weeks in December gathering donations “to assist families or individuals who have had a major change in their life due to unexpected medical expenses, death, loss of job, military service personnel on active duty and/or other family crises,” according to Deputy Scott Trump.
Sheriff Randy McClaflin said the program raised $3,800 and helped eight families. He said they were able to help a few more families than last year.
“We got a few more dollars in to be able to do that,” the sheriff said.
The deputies delivered the boxes of presents containing gift certificates and cash in person at eligible families’ homes throughout the week before Christmas.
McClaflin said the campaign was excellent and they got a lot of positive comments about helping the whole family, giving a little something for everyone.
The Valley City Police Department teamed up with other law enforcement for their annual Santa Cops and Kids Program Dec. 17. Law enforcement officials from various local, county and state agencies helped area children who’ve experienced hardships over the past year by taking them out for supper at Pizza Corner and shopping at Shopko.
The children each were given $100 in donated money to spend on their families during the event.
Sgt. Dave Swenson of the VCPD said they took 40 kids shopping this year, which is more than they’ve had in previous years. Swenson said those kids not only shopped for themselves but also for their siblings and parents, so Swenson said he thinks they probably helped 100-some people altogether.
“It’s the community who makes this event and all other events possible,” Swenson said. “We have great support throughout Barnes County.”