Christmas Basket program hanging on

Rocky Wilson/Chieftain Unlike previous years, the annual Tree of Giving in the Enterprise Flower Shoppe had zero ornaments with name tags and childrens' requests for gifts shortly after the tree went up late last week. Although the community effort was started a week late, Flower Shoppe owner Darlene Johnson, left, and Floral Designer Lori Bollman are convinced Wallowa County will respond and both the Tree of Giving and Elks Christmas Basket program will make a positive impact in 2014.

Wallowa County Chieftain

Yes, apparently there will be an Elks Christmas Basket Program in 2014, but no guarantees can currently be made about future years.

Alarmed that the 50-year-old Christmas program that supplies food and gifts to the needy of Wallowa County might be challenged this year, about 15 people met at the Toma’s Conference Room in Enterprise the night of Nov. 24 and exited convinced the popular, benevolent program will move ahead as planned this year.

Whether such will happen in 2015 might be another story, says Donnie Rynearson, treasurer for sponsoring Elks Lodge BPOE #1829.

The trials recently besetting the Lodge have included major fire damage in August, followed by last month’s announcement from the Harvey Elves – longtime co-sponsors of the Elks Christmas Basket program and the community Tree of Giving program – that they were finally retiring from these activities. While these setbacks appear to be conquered in 2014, yet another obstacle must be overcome in order to continue the programs through Christmas 2015.

Money, says Rynearson.

Already strapped by the organization’s declining membership, over the course of the last two years BPOE #1829 has pulled from its pockets a total of about $8,000 to cover Elks Christmas Basket Program expenses in excess of donated cash. “If we lose another $4,000 this year, I don’t see how we will be able to continue the program,” says Rynearson.

Footing the bill to buy turkeys and chickens alone as holiday gifts for more than 160 families (the count of families on Christmas Basket routes in 2013) is the program’s largest expense.

The program’s paramount needs this year are for much greater contributions of food and money, plus persons willing to volunteer the morning of Saturday, Dec. 20, to deliver the assembled baskets.

Among those already stepping forward to help save the Tree of Giving Program are two individuals who work at Enterprise City Hall: City Administrator Michele Young and Administrative Assistant Lacey McQuead. Acting as individuals and not as representatives of the City of Enterprise, Young and McQuead are working with others to make ornaments to place on the Tree of Giving which already is erected in its usual place in the showroom of The Enterprise Flower Shoppe. That business’s owner, Darlene Johnson, is waiting for ornaments to hang on the tree with names of children and requested gift items on respective ornaments.

The Tree of Giving program links to the Christmas Basket Program by providing gifts that help to personalize the baskets.

Because the need to save the Tree of Giving and Christmas Basket programs wasn’t well recognized very far in advance, precious time was lost, creating a pressing need today to secure the names of children to attach to ornaments and place them on the tree.

Rynearson, admitting the effort to save the overall Tree of Giving and Christmas Basket programs is being slowed by not having families and gift requests already signed up, says persons wishing to participate in the program as recipients can find sign-up forms at the Wallowa County Chieftain, Department of Human Services, Community Connection, and Building Healthy Families in Enterprise; the Wallowa Senior Center and Wallowa Food City, in Wallowa; and at the Joseph Chamber of Commerce in Joseph.

Young says a big need is for persons who’ve been involved in all aspects of the Christmas Basket Program in past years to step forward and become known by contacting Rynearson at 541-263-0598, or either Young or McQuead at Enterprise City Hall, 541-426-4196.

Many parties already are stepping up, says Rynearson. He says women from local grange halls under the leadership of Clarann Witty are planning to join forces and wrap boxes on Wednesday, Dec. 10. In addition, renewed efforts are underway to encourage school food drives, to get grocery stores involved in the effort, and to initiate donated food drops at Wallowa Memorial Hospital.

Rynearson says he’s not sure of the reason, but he knows both food and money donations have gone down markedly in recent years.

“Maybe it’s the bad economy, or maybe people just don’t realize how much is needed to support this program,” Rynearson says.

The Enterprise Chapter of FCCLA annually provides a valued assist to the Christmas Basket Program – through holding food drives, for example, and by volunteering in force to help prepare the boxes (“baskets”) for delivery to households.

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