United Christmas Spirit Appeal offers many a merrier Christmas
The United Christmas Spirit Appeal provided gifts for more than 700 Lincoln County children this year. Those children represent more than 250 local families in need during the holidays.
United Christmas Spirit Appeal coordinator Frieda Swanson said the numbers of families and children served this year was similar to last year. The program is headed by St. Vincent de Paul with support from the Merrill Fire Department.
Gifts were distributed to the families Dec. 19 from the Merrill Fire Department and Dec. 20 from St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. Along with the bags of gifts, each family received a ham.
The Lincoln County United Christmas Spirit Appeal is a county wide effort to coordinate the joy of giving by individuals or groups to those less fortunate. Area churches, civic groups, businesses and schools unite in an effort to serve as many children as possible.
“It really is a big community project,” Swanson said. “Without all the people helping we would never be able to do it.”
Tags, with children’s first name, age and other pertinent information were available at Johnson Gift & Home Decor in Merrill and at some local churches. Members of the public take the tags and purchase gifts for the children.
“All of Lincoln County is really very generous,” Swanson said. “They always step up to the plate and fill the needs.”
St. Vincent de Paul helps fill leftover tags and also makes sure families have other basic necessities, such as winter coats and boots.
The Merrill Fire Department has been involved in providing Christmas toys for needy local children since the 1950s. At first, they refurbished used toys and in recent years have partnered with United Christmas Spirit Appeal through the department’s Tree of Hope. Firefighters contributed $3,000 to the Tree of Hope, picking up any leftover tags, mostly for older children.
“The kids wanted very common things that people take for granted,” said Merrill Fire Department Capt. Mike Drury, coordinator of the Tree of Hope Drury. “It’s really an eye-opener to see what needs there are in this community.”
The Nite Riders motorcycle club contributed toys and nearly $2,000 and WMZK Radio’s 24-hour “Pig-A-Thon” raised more than $6,000 toward the cause.
Many other businesses, organizations and individuals donated to fulfill the wishes of every child.
“Many, many people in the community sent money or dropped off gifts,” said Drury. “It seemed like every day people would drop off toys here.”
The Tree of Hope is one branch of the fire department’s recently established Merrill Firefighters Charities foundation. In addition to providing Christmas gifts, the Tree of Hope funds will also go toward other causes, such as providing beds and linens for families who don’t have them, fulfilling food requests for the elderly and providing transportation for parents with sick children staying in out-of-town hospitals.
The Lincoln County United Christmas Spirit Appeal has been providing Christmas cheer for about 20 years, with St. Vincent de Paul at the helm for the past 5 years.