The need may prove to be greater than most past years when its time to deliver the boxes full of food and gifts in the Elks Christmas Basket Program on Dec. 23, according to co-chairman Chuck Haines.

"We've sent out more letters and gotten more responses than usual," said Haines about the inquiries that are mailed to households that are on the list of those who might need help achieving a merry Christmas this year.

Haines said that early this week a total of 120 households had already given a positive response to receiving a basket, while the average most years is 125 to 135 baskets actually delivered. "We always get a lot of calls at the last minute," he said. "And there are some big families."

Haines said that the community is pulling together as it always does to fill the collective Christmas basket, with donations of food, gifts, money and services coming in to the project from organizations, businesses, families, school groups and individuals. Haines said though it is "still too early to tell" the collective generosity of Wallowa County usually stretches to fill whatever need exists each year.

However, there is a real concern because of the large number of ornaments still left on the Tree of Giving - located this year in the wagon room adjacent to Enterprise Flower Shop. People who want to contribute a gift to the project take one or more of the ornaments, which bear the pseudonym and age of a person, in trade for a toy or other gift for that person. This year there are lots of ornaments left on the tree's branches, just a week before the deadline to turn in the gifts. Most of the ornaments bear the pseudonyms of older children, mostly boys, age 12 and up, or older persons in a foster home or in their own homes.

Haines says these groups are always a little harder to shop for than younger children. Some of this year's gingerbread ornaments suggest gifts that are on the wish list of the individual named, but many do not. Gifts that are good for teenagers include games, winter clothes and the like. Senior citizens can always use personal hygiene items or kits, lap robes, bed throws, gift certificates for meals out and hair styling, reading subscriptions, and stationery and stamps.

All three high schools in the county are collecting canned and packaged food for Christmas meals for the holiday project. The menu will consist of turkey or chicken (depending on the size of the household), dressing, canned vegetables and fruit, rolls, dairy products, celery, dairy products, potatoes, apples, oranges and other food contributed by the community. Food is being collected throughout the county, and surplus will go to the Wallowa County Food Bank. The food bank, in turn, will fills in gaps in the Christmas baskets.

Monetary donations are always needed, because they are used to buy food and gifts that are still needed when all the contributions are divided. Contributions may be mailed to Elks Christmas Basket Program, P.O. Box K, Enterprise OR 97828.

Wrapped presents should be returned to the Tree of Giving by Wednesday, Dec. 18.

Haines said that drivers with covered pickups to deliver the baskets are still needed in the Wallowa and Joseph areas.

For more information, call co-chairs Chuck Haines (426-3729) or John Neil (426-4500); or g call Barbara Harvey, 426-3378, about the Tree of Giving.

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