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Winkleman, Pollard, Kessler Offer Opportunities to Make a Difference this Holiday Season

KiwanisGiving TreeThere are “Twelve Days of Christmas,” according to the song, but there are surely as many ways to make people happy as there are days to celebrate.
Carmi Kiwanians learned Thursday about just three of those endeavors to brighten the holidays—and the days beyond—for the community’s needy.
The speakers at the club’s weekly luncheon meeting, held at the Farm Bureau Building in Carmi, were Don Winkleman of The Salvation Army, Chris Pollard of Cops & Kids, and Kara Kessler of First Bank’s The Giving Tree.
All agreed that the need is great—greater this year than in recent memory, perhaps—and each speaker   spoke of how local people can help meet those needs.

Here is a summary:
The Salvation Army
Winkleman said this will be the 16th Christmas season during which he has helped raise money forDon Winkleman the not-for-profit organization. The late Gary Edwards began the effort when he moved back to his home county from Evansville, Ind. several decades ago, and when Edwards left Carmi for St. Louis, Mo., Winkleman took the local chapter’s reins. During that first year, he said, he followed Edwards’ lead in hiring people (at minimum wage) to ring the bell outside the local Wal-Mart. About $4,400 was raised.
In the years that followed, organizations (such as the Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary clubs of Carmi) were encouraged to provide volunteers to ring the bell, and many other groups, churches and individuals also stepped up to the plate. These days, Winkleman said, no one here is paid to solicit contributions, and all the money raised here goes to the worthy cause of providing money to help people in need pay their rent, buy food and cover other expenses, such as utilities.
About $24,000 was raised last year, and Winkleman said this year’s goal is $25,000. Solicitation will begin on the day after Thanksgiving and continue almost until Christmas, with volunteers working one– or two-hour shifts (and sometimes longer hours) from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Volunteers will be ringing the bell for 168 hours, in all. The speaker said the average per-hour contributions have ranged from about $40 to nearly $200, as Christmas approaches. But even if the donations averaged $100 per hour worked—which they don’t—that wouldn’t be enough to reach the $25,000 figure.
Fortunately, Winkleman said, organizations such as the E. Martin Blackledge Foundation (which will provide $2,000 this year) have stepped up, and donors (such as a Rotary member who has already contributed $500) have also come forward.
The speaker challenged his listeners to volunteer their time and money this year—and to dress    warm if they choose to ring the bell. And he said the need is significant. Regardless of the reasons for a family’s condition, he said, the children are hungry and needy. And as the distributor of funds to such families, Winkleman said, he finds it very hard to say no when asked for help.
Cops and Kids
Chris PollardThis effort was initiated in 2000 by Officer Jonathan Lucas of the Carmi Police Department and is carried forward by officers and other members of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Each of 12 youngsters were treated to a $100 shopping spree at Wal-Mart that first year, courtesy of the retailer, but over the years the system has evolved. Although as many as 84 children have taken part in the peak year, the normal number is now between 40 and 50, Pollard said. And this year, each will be able to purchase clothing and assorted other items priced at a total of $200.
Pollard said the organizers look through the list of underprivileged children provided to them, comparing notes with other organizations undertaking to help the kids so that as many youngsters as possible get help. “We want to ensure that no child goes without” at Christmas, he said.
On the Saturday before Dec. 25 the officers and children gather at Wal-Mart for the spree, which the speaker described as an “awesome” event. Officers and other members of the FOP accompany the youngsters through the store, and it’s a heart-warming exercise, Pollard said.
“The looks on their faces are amazing,” he said.
About $9,000 was raised in 2013 and about $14,000 last year, Pollard said, adding that all of the money raised goes to buy gifts for the children. Even some youngsters who don’t “make the cut” to shop can benefit. “We get together, buy gifts for those and wrap the gifts,” he said. He, his wife and their children have even delivered gifts to the homes of these children on Christmas Eve, leaving the packages on the doorstep for discovery the next morning.
“It’s a privilege to do this,” he told the Kiwanians. Anyone may donate by leaving money in special boxes in the lobby of the City-County Jail, at Maier’s Grocery in Crossville or at Doug’s in Norris City.
The Giving Tree
Kessler said First Bank began the Giving Tree more than 20 years ago, and it continues to bless Kara Kessler local youngsters each holiday season. The names of recipients are submitted by local schools. “We rely on the teachers who see these children daily,” she said.
Children chosen to take part are asked to make out a list of their “wants.” People interested in helping may obtain one of these lists and do the shopping to fill it, or simply contribute money and other volunteers will do the shopping.
About $25,000 is raised annually to provide gifts to the youngsters (who range in age up through third grade); the 2015 list includes the names of 218 children at this point.
Kessler said some children ask for “hot” items such as Legos or gifts related to the “Frozen” craze. But others have asked for clothing that they can wear to church, and even for Bibles. At least one child asked her parents to take the money they had planned to spend to buy gifts for her and to spend some of it on a needy child, she added. And some families which in the past received help through the program have since stepped up, when able, to “pass it forward.”
Members of the Key Club at Carmi-White County High School are among those who have helped; many individuals and churches have also assisted, Kessler told the group.
In the days before Christmas the lobby of First Bank’s downtown facility is crowded with trash bags filled with packaged and wrapped gifts. And when all of the packages are wrapped and the bags are stuffed, a truck from Brown Feed & Chemical arrives to haul the goods to the Floral Hall at the Fairgrounds for distribution.
It’s been estimated that the need has grown by 30 percent in the last dozen years, Kessler told the group. She expressed appreciation for all those who have helped and asked for assistance this year, as well.
The Giving Tree effort and others such as the aforementioned bell-ringing and Cops & Kids endeavors show how generous the community is, she added.
Jeremy Jordan introduced the speakers.
Other matters
In club business, President Alan Saunders announced that the Kiwanians will meet Santa Claus at noon Thursday, Dec. 10 at Brownsville School, singing Christmas carols before the school assembly as gifts from Kiwanis are distributed to the students. The club’s annual pre-Christmas meeting will be Thursday, Dec. 17 at the Farm Bureau Building.
Saunders read from a history of Thanksgiving (Kiwanis will not meet on Thursday, Nov. 26, which is Thanksgiving day; its next meeting is Dec. 3). Katelynn Wolff announced that about 300 people have signed up to participate in this year’s Reindeer Run fundraiser for Jefferson School.
And the president told members that the club-sponsored circus has been scheduled for April 27 in Carmi.
Steve Winkleman won the weekly 50-50 drawing, splitting a jackpot of $20 with the club, and Caleb Hughes and Frank Barbre also won prizes.
The meeting followed a meal prepared and served by The Green Onion of Crossville.
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