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‘Tis the season for giving
November 14, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
With the approach of the holiday season, residents will have numerous opportunities to help brighten this time of year for the less fortunate.

One of the events started early and ran through October as Fresh Foods in Gering spearheaded a coat drive for kids.

Kerri Dishman of Fresh Foods said this was the first year of the coat drive. It was scheduled for a time before really cold weather hit, when people were cleaning out their closets and getting rid of old coats the kids have outgrown.

“I’ve seen kids walking to school without a coat on really cold mornings,” Dishman said. “I thought I’d be happy to donate some coats while cleaning out the closet. I’m sure that others would think that as well.”

Coats collected at Fresh Foods and other drop-off points around the area were taken to Northfield Elementary School for distribution. Some were also taken to the senior citizen center.

“I’ve easily taken 40 boxes of coats to the school,” Dishman said. “It brought tears to my eyes that people are so generous. It’s kind of like giving a kid a big hug to keep them warm.”

Coats continue to be collected as part of the 32nd annual Gift of Love program, sponsored by First State Bank. Collection boxes are in both the Scottsbluff and Gering branches through Dec. 14. Coats will be taken to Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska for distribution to children in need.

Another ongoing part of Gift of Love is the Tree of Names. Trees at both bank branches are decorated with paper ornaments containing a wish list from a local child. People are invited to take and ornament, purchase an item from the list and return it to the bank unwrapped.

Volunteers from the Knights of Columbus will wrap presents later for delivery to the children, along with food items for a holiday meal.

“A lot of names on the tree are wishing for toys,” said program coordinator Becca Tompkins. “Many of them don’t even want toys, just clothing necessities.”

Another event during the Gift of Love event is a canned food collection, done by the bank’s Adopt-a-School partners.

“The kids in the schools collect canned food items for the local food pantries,” Tompkins said. “They make a display from the cans and we judge how they did. The winners get cash prizes for the school’s booster club.”

The Gift of Love program wraps up on Saturday, Dec. 14 when the Truck of Love will be in the First State Bank parking lot in Scottsbluff. They will be accepting toys, clothing, food items and cash donations.

The third annual Snow Angels program, sponsored by the Scotts Bluff County Volunteer Center, is also collecting food items like tuna and crackers, canned soup, ramen noodles, peanut butter and jelly and gelatin and pudding cups.

“We started this program for people enrolled in our Meals on Wheels program,” said Jill Allen of the volunteer center. “Every year, we have a few days of bad weather when the drivers can’t get out delivering meals, so the individuals aren’t getting their lunch that day. For a few people, that’s their only meal they eat that day, so it’s a bit deal for them.”

So the volunteer center decided to put together emergency food packs of items that can sit on the shelf for awhile.

“The program has gone very well the last two years,” Allen said. “We’ve had great donations. And Regional West Medical Center has its own drive for us.”

Several local businesses are collecting again this year, and the volunteer center will start picking up food items on Nov. 15. After sorting, items will be delivered on Nov. 18 and 19.

Also returning for a second year is the I Can, You Can, We Can non-perishable food collection drive to benefit the food pantry at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

Program coordinator Jill Pleick said people will know which businesses are participating by the large poster with a can on it. The drive started in October and will run through the end of the year.

“A year ago, we heard the food pantry at Our Lady of Guadalupe was empty,” Pleick said. “So we put together a promotion to bring in some food items. Pretty soon, other businesses heard about it and also wanted to get involved.”

In addition to the October through December food drive, the program also hosts an event in June at the Riverside Discovery Center zoo to collect more food items.

“Our first year was a great success,” she said. “We raised over 4,000 pounds of food.”

About 12 to 14 businesses are participating in I Can, You Can, We Can this year, but the group is also looking for new businesses to get involved. Call Jill Pleick at (308) 632-3913 for more information.
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