For most of us, the holiday season is filled with the promise of fun with the family, turkey dinner and all the fixings, presents under a tree glowing with lights, tinsel and sparkling ornaments. But for some Winona County families, the holidays bring uncertainty: the fear that there will be little to eat, little to share, and next to nothing under the tree.
In the spirit of giving and generosity, for the past 10 years, Saint Mary's University (SMU) Gifts for Winona has helped bring presents and grocery gift cards to thousands of needy families, kids, and seniors to make the holidays a little brighter.
It is an annual collaborative effort that says simply: everyone should have something special for Christmas.
The program works like this: Christmas trees at select locations around Winona are decorated with wish list cards for children and seniors, and families who would like grocery gift cards. Generous donors take one or several cards and purchase gifts. Trees and cards may be found at the following locations: the Winona Post, three Severson-Sinclair locations, Walmart, the Winona Public Library, and Security State Bank of Lewiston. Additionally, trees with cards requesting grocery gift cards for families are located at Midtown Foods and HyVee. Donors should tape the request card from the tree to the gifts, and return them by December 12 to the tree where the cards were originally obtained. The gifts are then distributed by SMU volunteers to those who need a little help for the holidays.
"Sometimes there are families in tears," said Deb Nahrgang, SMU Director of Communication. "We've had people express how grateful they are for the program, and how much they are looking forward to giving back when they are able to."
It is recommended that donors spend $35 on gifts for children and seniors. Many are looking for warm clothes—a winter jacket, hat, and mittens, and some of the kids have a special toy in mind. "I think that for a lot of people, it's just a little something extra," said Nahrgang. "It may only be a $35 gift, but I think that means the world to them, knowing that somebody cares."
Last year, the program helped about 1,600 individuals and families, and in its 10 years, Gifts for Winona has changed the holiday season for thousands. Nahrgang said that those who are served are often very thankful for even the smallest things—mittens, or a pillow.
Some years, Gifts for Winona volunteers find that there are a few extra toy donations left over, and they set up a table for families with children to choose a surprise. "Those kids' eyes light up," said Nahrgang. "Every year, I think we all take home some special stories."
For more information, call the Gifts for Winona line at 507-457-8719. Other sponsors of the program include the Winona Post, Winona Radio, and Winona Volunteer Services.