The program is in its seventh year after starting out in what was about six years ago called St. Pius Catholic Church in Zimmerman. Not long after the Christmas Giving Program began, it moved to the Catholic Church in Princeton. According to Deb Ulm and Stacy Manning, current organizers of the Christmas Giving Program, that was about the time the Catholic churches in Zimmerman and Princeton merged under the name Christ Our Light Catholic Church.
The Christmas Giving Program collects gifts and gives them to families who sign up by a deadline, which this year was the week after Thanksgiving. The number of family recipients this year is down by 36 from last year, according to Manning. She said she thinks it might be because many people overlooked the sign-up deadline, and it doesn’t necessary reflect the need. The local food shelf, known as Princeton Pantry, referred most of the families to sign up for the program, while other referrals came from churches, according to Ulm.
The program is carried out by hundreds of volunteers, according to Ulm and Manning, and made possible by the many donations of toys, goods and money. Volunteers use the money to shop for some of the gifts that are put together for families. Each family also receives a plate of holiday cookies.
The recipient families picked up their gifts during the evening of Dec. 18 after volunteers had gone through every gift pile to make sure the gifts requested by each family were there.
Manning’s mother (who wants to remain anonymous) interviewed someone from each of the recipient families to determine what each family wanted. Manning, who knew about the interviews, said she was surprised by how many grandparents are raising their grandchildren. She defined raising as often meaning having custody of the grandchildren.
That can be a difficult financially for the grandparents because they are on a fixed income, Manning said, so “generational poverty” is sometimes the case. Some factors for why grandparents are raising grandchildren include parents with illness or not having enough income for proper shelter, Manning added. Sometimes the grandchildren have special needs, Manning said.
Area residents “need to understand these are their neighbors, and their needs are not just now (during Christmas) but all year-round,” Manning continued. “A lot of us are just a paycheck away from not being able to make it.”
Many struggling parents have to make a choice if they are going to buy gifts for their children, Manning said.
Some parents had hoped they could afford to buy presents but realized in the last days before Christmas that they can’t, and so organizers of programs like the Christmas Giving Program get last-minute gift requests, Ulm said.
Ulm and Manning expressed appreciation for the gift donors and pointed out one example – T.L.C. Toys, which makes handmade wooden toys. Scores of these toys, made out of various hardwoods, were donated to the Christmas Giving Program. Organizers make sure to include personal care items, including toilet tissue, Manning noted. Princeton Pantry can only give four toilet tissue rolls per family of four each month and certain government-assistance programs don’t allow use of their money for the tissue, Manning said.
Local charitable organization His Givers contributed bags of personal care items to the Christmas Giving Program.
Before the families came in to pick up the gifts, the tables across the fellowship room in the lower level of Christ Our Light Catholic Church in Princeton were filled with big bags of gifts for families to pick up, each one numbered. More gifts were in various side rooms in the church basement. By the end of the distribution day, all the gifts and personal care items would be given away, Ulm said.