Walking through the National Guard Armory in Redwood Falls Dec. 13, one would have observed the ideals of Christmas at their best.
There were smiles shared.
Gifts were given to complete strangers, not only given but delivered right to the trunk of their cars.
The spirit of Christmas was alive and well during the three days of a holiday event known as Share the Spirit.
For 40 years Share the Spirit has been ensuring families in the Redwood area, who are facing the challenges of life, are able to celebrate Christmas.
It ensures hundreds of children are able to open at least one gift this Christmas, when there may not have been any other way.
One year ago, Share the Spirit helped 235 families, including 531 children, with food, toys and a few everyday necessities most take for granted. While the numbers were not official when Share the Spirit ended Dec. 14, those who helped coordinate the event had good news.
“This year we were able to help more families than we ever have,” said Char Ellig, Share the Spirit co-coordinator.
With programs offered in Redwood Falls and Lamberton, the vision to ensure families throughout the Redwood area are being helped can be accomplished, and Sara Madsen, Share the Spirit co-coordinator said it is just great to know those families who need a little bit of help are getting it.
Ellig said each year there are new families who are being assisted through Share the Spirit, and Madsen added the reality is that many of the families who are benefitting from Share the Spirit have jobs and are still not able to have enough to get gifts and a meal for Christmas.
Ellig and Madsen agreed this year’s event has been exceptional from the outpouring of donations to the list of people who spent part of their week volunteering.
“The volunteers do so much,” said Ellig. “Just to watch them is amazing.”
Those volunteers, added Ellig, love coming each year, and many of them have been part of the program for years. Ellig pointed out their greeter is 91 years old.
“The families are so appreciative,” said Ellig, adding the need is ongoing as is evident in the number of new families who come each year.
In many cases those families may participate in Share the Spirit one time when they are facing the loss of a job, an illness or some other life challenge that is preventing them from being able to experience the spirit of Christmas.
So, others share it with them. Families who may be down one year and see one side of Share the Spirit as recipients often become donors when life changes for them.
Ellig and Madsen shared stories of people who continue to send donations to Share the Spirit, even though they don’t even live in the community anymore, simply because their lives were positively impacted by the program. They want to be able to offer that same kind of experience to others.
“The people who donate to Share the Spirit are so generous,” Ellig said.
In fact, Ellig said what began in a dentist chair resulted in two local dentists, Dr. Mike Flinn and Dr. Tim Brown, donating toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste this year ensuring every child who received the blessings of Share the Spirit went home with those personal hygiene products, too.
Ellig also pointed to the generosity of Jackpot Junction.
“They hold several events during the year to collect toys for us,” said Ellig, adding she and Madsen get calls regularly from them with news of more bags of gifts.
For the past few years, Share the Spirit has also benefitted from the Toys for Tots program in Marshall. Recognizing some of its donations are coming from people who live in the Redwood area, Toys for Tots also makes a financial donation to Share the Spirit, as it is impacting that same area.
Dozens of fruit baskets are delivered throughout the area as part of Share the Spirit, with those gifts given to people who are unable to leave their homes for some reason.
There are men who come each year to simply push the shopping carts of gifts to vehicles, and when the weather is cold and windy Ellig and Madsen said they just keep on working.
There are people behind the scenes packing bags that are filled with food items that have been donated for families. Others spend hours organizing hundreds of toys onto tables.
Madsen pointed to a row of bikes, adding some people from the area refurbish those bikes and then donate them to programs like Share the Spirit.
So, there are children who actually receive their own bike, perhaps for the first time in the lives. All of it is done by the volunteers with a smile.
Madsen and Ellig, who are gaining experience as the coordinators of Share the Spirit in Redwood County, expressed their awe. They are continually overwhelmed as they try and take in all that is Share the Spirit.
While Share the Spirit for 2017 is now over, one can start thinking now about next year. Keep updated on Redwood County Share the Spirit by visiting its Facebook page.
Madsen and Ellig expressed their thanks to everyone who made Share the Spirit another great success in 2017.