Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Local need may be higher this holiday season, but representatives of service organizations say residents are stepping up to the plate and filling the voids with Christmas cheer. “Havre is just one of those communities that is very giving,” said Havre Food Bank Director Penny Velk. “Nobody wants to see anybody go hungry. It’s been phenomenal.” Various organizations in Havre annually prepare to help families down on their luck during the holiday season. But this year the need seems to be even greater during this time of economic depression and the last two weeks of cold snowy weather, representatives of some groups said Tuesday. Programs like the Havre Food Bank Christmas dinner package, The Salvation Army’s Christmas dinner package and Angel Tree, and the Havre Jaycees Toys for Tots and Koats for Kids all work to provide food, clothing and gifts to people who can’t afford to provide for themselves. The giving spirit The Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen held its Christmas celebration Tuesday, decorating its hall and providing a full ham holiday dinner to its patrons, with Santa Claus giving gifts to children afterward. Leann Johnson, director of Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen, said the volunteers served about 50 people Tuesday. “We were expecting more, but I think the weather had something to do with that,” she added. The Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen Is closed today and on Christmas Day. Johnson said the donations from the community are what make the holiday celebration and the soup kitchen’s normal operations possible. “We couldn’t do this without our community, so we want to say a great big, Thank you,’” Johnson said. This year, as it has for the last several years, the local chapter of American Bikers Aiming Toward Education donated gifts for Santa to hand out during the celebration. This is the fourth year ABATE has purchased gifts for children who sign up in advance at the Feed My Sheep dinner. “They buy our gifts every year,” Johnson said. The Gildford/Kremlin Baptist Youth Group also helped out, coming down to to the soup kitchen to help decorate and assist Santa in passing out the gifts. ABATE had made a group purchase for the Salvation Army Angel Tree five years ago, as many local groups and organizations do. Amanda Laeupple, chair of the Havre Jaycees Toys for Tots and Koats for Kids Committee, said the donations they received also exceeded expectations, at least for coats. “We had double the amount of coats compared with last year,” she said, adding that the number of toys donated was slightly down from last year’s. But local contributions still came through Laeupple said that at the last minute, Havre Pipeline/Devon Energy employees “made a huge donation of toys,” in addition to what had already been collected. That was almost enough, with the last new toy given away just as the last people came in to collect their gifts. Other donations to that drive included Havre Paint Shop making a cash donation with which to buy items and Havre Laundry and Dry Cleaning donating the cleaning of coats, she said. Stepping up for those in need Velk said the giving spirit also has come through for the Havre Food Bank. More people seem to be in need, she said, what with the economic problems in the country, exacerbated by heating bills going up with the cold weather. Studies show that people are more willing to pay expenses like heating bills than buying food, she said. “The incidence of children going to bed hungry is higher than we would want to believe,” she added. Velk said the Food Bank teams up with the Havre Salvation Army at Christmas. The two collaborated last week to put out Christmas dinner packages for people who signed up at the Salvation Army. This week the Food Bank is handing out packages for people who signed up, with most picked up Monday and Tuesday. Between the two organizations they have delivered close to 100 Christmas meal packages this year, Velk said. She added that the Food Bank would be open today from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and if people missed picking up a food package, they could call the Havre Food Bank at 265-2007 and leave a message if no one was there. “We would do our best to get something to them,” she said. Local contributions make the difference Velk said the situation at the Food Bank seems to be in much better shape than it was even a few months ago. At that time, she said, things were looking bleak, but the community has come through. “I was going, How am I going to feed people?’” she said. “I guess prayers were answered.” A Fifth Avenue Christian youth group held a food drive, then local 4-H clubs held a raffle and raised money with which to buy food. That got the Food Bank through to the Everybody Loves Firefighters ood drive last fall, and the donations have continued since then, Velk said. A drive at Montana State University-Northern raised $2,000 the Food Bank needs cash as well as donations of food to pay expenses and to pay for food including items shipped from the Montana Food Bank Network and the Town Pump Charitable Foundation made a $4,000 matching contribution. The Town Pump employees also helped, offering customers a chance to make a $1 contribution with purchases. Velk said that raised another $3,889. Good and bad have added a bittersweet aspect to the donations to the Food Bank. Velk said that when Albertson’s closed last spring, the Food Bank lost a major contributor. At the same time, with the North Havre Giveaway House no longer doing food packages, Gary & Leo’s Fresh Foods has shifted the food it used to donate there to the Food Bank. Velk said the Food Bank also has partnered with Albertson’s in Harlem and has started receiving contributions from that source. Albertson’s donated 15 boxes of dairy and meat products last week, she said. Other businesses and local schools and organizations are continuing to help out, she added, and more drives are scheduled or being planned for next year. Johnson also emphasized that it is the local donations that allow the Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen to operate, from donations of food and cash to the time donated by volunteers. She said many, many, individuals and businesses help with donations. “They know who they are and I want to give them a big thank you,” Johnson said. Hard times ahead The need is not expected to decrease after the holiday season. The Salvation Army told the Havre Daily News earlier this month that many people who have never applied for help before are seeking aid this year. Velk said Tuesday that many new people also are coming to the Food Bank, especially retirees. The number of senior citizens needing help from the Food Bank jumped from 25 one month to 75 the next, she said. “That was quite shocking,” she said, adding that many senior citizens seem to be willing to go without in order to help others. “(Seniors) are kind of the holdouts,” Velk said. “If there are women or children who need help they would rather it go to them.” So far, the help has been there. “With the contributions we've had this fall, we should be close to in-the-black, and that is phenomenal,” Velk said, adding that the Food Bank will still need more help after the holidays. “There is a great need and I expect to see a larger demand on us in the next three months,” she said.