Clockwise from back left, Merchants Bank Southern Regions President Andrew Guzzo, Winona Mayor Mark Peterson, Winona Volunteer Services Executive Director Sandra Burke, Rollingstone Community School student Charlie Larson, St. Matthew’s Lutheran School student Addysen Palubicki, and St. Stanislaus Elementary School student Dane Guzzo kicked off the 10 Days of Giving food drive.
by CHRIS ROGERS
The tinsel and lights look nice, but giving is perhaps the quintessential Christmas tradition. Starting this weekend, the Winona area food shelf’s biggest food and fund drive of the year is on, and there are over 100 green bins at schools, businesses, and churches around Winona and St. Charles where donors may drop off nonperishable food items. Monetary donations go even further, and last year the Merchants Bank-organized 10 Days of Giving campaign raised enough to provide 206,050 pounds of food to the Winona Volunteer Services (WVS) food shelf — nearly 40 percent of its annual needs. “It’s a significant event,” Merchants Bank Southern Regions President Andrew Guzzo stated.
“I’ve learned a few things about how important this food drive is,” Winona Mayor Mark Peterson said at the 10 Days of Giving kickoff event on Friday. Once, a number of years ago, Peterson helped WVS distribute food to people at their homes. “People were running out to make sure we didn’t miss their bag of food,” he recalled. “I think people who are hungry realize the importance of sharing with others and we do have people in this community that are hungry,” Peterson added.
In 2016, the WVS food shelf served 3,324 people, plus another 1,603 who received emergency food packages, according to WVS. WVS Executive Director Sandra Burke described her organization’s food shelf as a “stopgap.” While there is no limit on receiving emergency food, people are only allowed to take 30 items per month when shopping at the food shelf. WVS figures that is about a week’s worth of food, though some clients stretch it much further. WVS staff connect clients to other assistance programs and talk with them about budgeting and nutrition, Burke said. The WVS food shelf alone does not keep hungry people fed, but it does supplement government programs and other assistance on which many families, seniors, and others rely. “We’re really just trying to be that stopgap when people need assistance,” she said.
Since 10 Days of Giving began in 1988, it has raised the equivalent of over three million pounds of food. “All of us have traditions with our family,” Burke said. “I look at this as a tradition Volunteer Services has with Merchants Bank and the community.”
For the next seven days, most local schools and scores of local businesses, daycares, and churches will have green barrels to accept donations of non-perishable food. Burke asked donors not to contribute homemade goods — WVS cannot use them — or glass jars.
Monetary donations are more helpful, though, because dollars don’t expire and because WVS can get great deals on food through a regional food bank.
Guzzo praised the organizations hosting green barrels. “[They] make this event really happen,” he said.
There is also a lineup of holiday events soliciting donations, including the Holiday Concert for the Hungry at Winona State University’s Performing Arts Center at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 3, and the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train on Friday, December 8, at 4 p.m. at the Amtrak station in Winona.
More information on those and other events and a listing of all the locations with green barrels may be found at www.merchantsbank.com/10daysofgiving. Monetary donations may be made out to “10 Days of Giving” and mailed to or dropped off at Merchants Bank, 102 East Third Street, Winona, Minn., 55987. Financial donations may also be made online at www.winonavs.org. Organizers asked online donors to enter “10 Days of Giving” next to their name.
Evans’ Christmas Village on display
It has everything — a miniaturized, motorized hockey player skating around a frozen pond; model trains chugging into a snowy mountain tunnel; and a teeny, tiny craft brewery with frosted windows glowing from within. For the first time ever, Gary Evans has taken his massive collection of miniature Christmas village figurines out of his home — where there isn’t even enough room to display them all — and filled a downtown office building with five rooms full of snowy village scenes for public display.
Evans is both captivated by the miniatures and full of self-deprecating humor about how over-the-top his hobby has gone. He explained how it all began: “On a trip home from California one November, I was feeling guilty because I didn’t have a gift for my wife. So, I stopped in Red Wing, and there were little lighted houses on display. So I bought one. And the next November we went back to Red Wing and bought a second piece. And the next November we went back and bought a third piece. And I think that’s when everything went to hell, and then [the collection] started to grow in number.”
Evans said he is done collecting now and wanted to get the collection out of his house. He and his wife joked about whose job it would be to take it all down this year.
From 4-7:30 p.m., Monday through Friday this week, people may stroll through the expansive lighted village collection and drop off donations for 10 Days of Giving at 64 East Fourth Street, in Winona, where it is on display.