Help for the holidays

Published 1:02 pm Friday, November 30, 2012

Pastor Mike Olmsted of Westminster Presbyterian Church stands in front of the many items his congregation will donate to the community. Among committing hundreds of dollars to Hy-Vee's Feed a Family program, members collect cereal for the Salvation Army and are stockpiling gifts under their tree for local children in need. -- Matt Peterson/

Local churches doing their part to ease strain on families

At first look, it may seem weird that a local church is encouraging its members to raise funds only to give them to a grocery store. But to members of Westminster Presbyterian Church and Hy-Vee Manager Todd Hepler, it’s a no-brainer.

For its third year, Westminster is raising funds during the holidays to support Hy-Vee’s Feed a Family program. Pastor Mike Olmsted sees it as a more effective way to feed local families during the holidays instead of the church tackling such a chore on its own.

“It just seems like a natural fit,” Olmsted said. “Our folks are always so willing to respond and help. This is a great opportunity for them.”

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Last year, Westminster raised more than $900 for Feed a Family, which goes a lot further than some would think. According to Hepler, every $10 given to Hy-Vee buys a $41 holiday meal for a local family in need.

“You take $10 that you donate and it turns into $41,” Hepler said. “There is just no other program like that.”

Therefore, Westminster alone could feed more than 100 families this year. It is already on pace, with $500 raised thus far, to beat last year’s total of $900. Last year, Feed a Family provided meals for more than 700 families. Hepler said each meal is easily enough to feed a family of four, as each includes a 5-pound ham, rolls, two cans of vegetables, a pound of butter, apple pie and Mrs. Jerry’s mashed potatoes and cranberry relish.

And this year, Feed a Family may do even more. Hy-Vee’s goal is to raise $10,000 and feed as many as 900 families, perhaps more. About $4,200 has rolled in thus far. Hepler said the need has increased, but more churches have indicated they will bring in donations, as well.

“In the last five years, we’ve seen that need grow,” Hepler said. “People are needing help. I think that’s why this program really works.”

While churches and local businesses are donating, locals can donate, too. Donations are accepted directly in the store or even by credit card over the phone. Furthermore, a $10 donation isn’t required. People can give any amount. Local families who fill out applications for the meals and qualify through the Salvation Army will then pick up their care packages on Nov. 21. Any leftover funds will go directly to the Salvation Army.

Doing more

Westminster isn’t only donating money for food this holiday season: Its members are buying Christmas gifts for local children through the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.

That’s something many other churches are doing or making into their own programs, in which a person picks a name off the tree and buys a gift for that child or family. Grace Lutheran has its own variation in which people pick an ornament with a monetary amount, and a gift card is given to that family. Our Savior’s Lutheran, St. Olaf Lutheran, First United Methodist Church, Faith Evangelical Free and other congregations are doing similar programs, as well.

Once again, Faith Church is also donating meals. With the help of Hormel Foods Corp. — which has donated ham for every meal — Faith Church members will deliver Christmas care baskets to families they choose on Dec. 9.

More local holiday drives at churches include care packages for children, relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy victims, ongoing food collection for the Salvation Army and items for Operation Christmas Child, among others.