On the morning of Dec. 22, 2017, 120 Wallowa County families were greeted with a knock on their door. Some of them were still asleep, but everyone woke quickly at the realization that their Christmas basket had arrived.
The baskets were filled with a variety of goodies designed to brighten the holiday for families in need.
Each box was carefully hand-decorated by the Enterprise VFW Auxiliary. Inside was a veritable grocery store. Potatoes, apples, oranges, cranberry sauce, celery, onions, a variety of candy. Each family received a turkey.
“This is the first year we did not use chicken as we had enough turkeys to go around,” said Randy Morgan, coordinator of the Christmas Basket Program for the Enterprise Elks Lodge. “Among the donations was 500 pounds of potatoes, so there were plenty.”
Also neatly tucked inside each box was a $10 gift certificate to the Wallowa Community Resale Store.
More than a dozen organizations participate, and around 90 volunteers donate time.
“It was truly a community effort,” added Morgan, who also spearheaded the project last year and several years in the mid-90s.
After discussing the project at various points throughout the year, planning begins in earnest in October.
After tweaking whatever didn’t work the previous year, the next step is getting out the word asking people to sign up for the program.
The Elks lists a “suggested” date of Nov. 10 for having all applications returned. Most don’t meet the deadline. This year, one request came in after the delivery date. Morgan said a box was prepared and delivered the day after Christmas.
The success of the promotion determines to a large extent the participation level. This year’s numbers were up 25 families from last year, but still lower than the average of 150 families, according to Morgan.
The application form was printed in two separate editions of the Chieftain, and copies were distributed far and wide.
The Tree of Giving project runs simultaneously, organized by City of Enterprise employees Michele Young and Lacey McQuead, along with Department of Youth Services employees Mandy Decker and Amy Stangel. Funds are used for “special gifts” for seniors and children.
On Monday prior to the delivery date, boxes gathered from various points around the county are decorated. The contents are secured from donations, Food City Family Foods in Wallowa and Dollar Stretcher in Enterprise. Safeway participates in a separate program through Community Connection.
Next, tables are erected throughout Cloverlead Hall, boxes are set out, and a label with the address of the family to receive it and phone number is attached.
Nonperishable food items are packed first, later fruits and vegetables.
Delivery day dawns early. This year, around 28 volunteers began work at 7:30 a.m.
“That’s probably a bit early,” Morgan said. “Some folks weren’t up yet when we arrived.”
The first wave includes loading a trailer with all of the baskets designated for Wallowa families, creating a central delivery point. Volunteers work out of the trailer until everything is delivered.
Back in Enterprise, volunteers began packing boxes into their vehicles –– as many as can be accommodated –– and set off to play Santa Claus. The entire process was completed by 10 a.m.
Some of the 120 families were large, some small and some were singles. One family in Lostine included 10 individuals. Four families included seven, three families included six and 26 families had five members each and 26 families of five.
Morgan reckons 380 individuals were impacted by the program.
“Most everyone is grateful,” Morgan said. Volunteers who meet with complaints are instructed not to be judgmental, but “be generous and move on.”
For Morgan, the most reward part of the project is getting the community involved.
“I love working with the Elks and all we do to put this on,” he said. “But there are so many others involved. It reaffirms that this county is a generous county.”