Santa comes early for families in need

Published 7:05 am Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tracy Rietveld is relieved. She knows her children will open gifts from Santa this year.

The single working mother of three boys, ages 9, 5 and 6-months, said times are hard for her family — especially this Christmas season.

So, she turned to the local Salvation Army.

Tuesday, Rietveld and about 700 other parents visited Oak Park Mall to pick up toys, books and stocking stuffers from the Salvation Army’s Toy Shop.

“This is a hard time of year for us, and I’m so happy because I could not provide this without them,” Rietveld said.

The Salvation Army provides holiday groceries and children’s gifts for registered families, who meet income and/or extenuating circumstances requirements, each Christmas. Registered children’s names and their wish-lists were written on Angel ornaments and hung on a tree in Oak Park Mall, for the public to adopt last month.

The public could also give monetary donations and new toys. Miscellaneous toys were matched up with Angels who were not adopted. Extra toys, donated by the US Marine Corps Toys For Tots foundation, will go to families who did not register in time.

Close to 1,000 kids were registered to receive toys, and Salvation Army Toy Shop coordinator Cindy Boyer said they expected about 200 more families, some with multiple children, to seek gifts in the coming days.

Last year a total of 1,020 kids were served, case worker Lori Blanton said.

“No doubt, it has been hard to meet the rising need,” Boyer said.

“But, the community came through in the end. About two weeks ago, we were only at 50 percent, and that was scary.”

While need may be up at least 20 percent in Mower County, demand for assistance from the Twin Cities Salvation Army nearly doubled this year, according to the Star Tribune.

Boyer said that locally more than 20 volunteers work to ensure each child gets about $50 worth of gifts — ideally things similar to those on their lists — one book and three stocking-stuffers.

“Our goal is to make sure that every family who is in need of assistance will be able to give their children something nice to open on Christmas,” Boyer said.

“Right now, it looks like we will be able to do that.”