For more than three decades, local volunteers from Anoka County have put heart and soul together, determined that each child finds a toy under the Christmas tree, that each family sits down to a traditional holiday feast on Christmas Day.
Those efforts, dreamed up by Anoka’s Jaycees back in the 1960s and for the past 31 years managed and organized by the Christmas Committee, means that hundreds of Anoka County households with thousands of children enjoy a brighter holiday each year.
“You don’t realize how many people, how many groups it takes to make this happen. This is truly remarkable and I’m glad to be able to help,” said first-time Christmas Committee volunteer Kathie Burmeister as she sorted toys and games at the Anoka Armory Dec. 18.
Burmeister is one of thousands of volunteers working year-round on the Christmas Committee project.
Those volunteer efforts mean food, toys and monetary donations are collected when drives are staged at local schools, churches, businesses and by individuals.
Not only that, the North Metro Realtors Association each year coordinates a Toys for Joy toy collection effort, while Toys for Tots, organized by the Marine Corps, provides the rest of the toys distributed by the Christmas Committee.
Other local groups lend time, money, resources and energy to make the Christmas Committee project work each year.
“Coborn’s, Mickman Brothers, the schools, Ace, Cenaiko… the list goes on and on who’s helping with this,” said incoming Christmas Committee president Bill Hammes as fellow volunteers boxed toys and food and packaged items for give-away the following day.
Tuesday and Wednesday, food and toys collected at various locations throughout Anoka County were being gathered, sorted and distributed inside the Anoka Armory – space donated for that purpose each year by the National Guard.
Families and individuals in need, living in northern Anoka County, are eligible to receive Christmas Committee packages and are sought by Christmas Committee members in the fall of the year.
Those families were then assigned a pick-up time this past Wednesday or Thursday when they would arrive at the Armory to collect the food and toys packaged for them.
According to Hammes, he and several volunteers from local police and fire departments deliver packages to families and individuals unable to travel to the Armory to retrieve them.
But before the food and toys could be distributed, much work had to be done. From the early morning hours to late in the evening over two long days Monday and Tuesday, students from surrounding schools worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Christmas Committee members and other volunteers to sort and pack donated toys and food.
And then, boxes bulging with turkey and potatoes, bread, cereal, soup, vegetables and more food items and toys were packaged and distributed to families in need – and holiday spirits are boosted all around.
“We had more food this year than last year from students who did food drives at the schools. Hopefully, that keeps growing,” Hammes said.
To learn more about the Christmas Committee, visit www.ChristmasCommittee.com, check out Christmas-Committee on Facebook or call 763-323-4982.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]