by Brad Strootman
On Christmas Eve in 1985, my wife, Joyce Holm and I were doing our Christmas Eve Broadcast. It is 4 hours of programming simulcast between 1 and 4 p.m. on both KMHL-AM and KKCK-FM. During that program, we received a phone call from Andy Lee, an employee at Gesme’s printing of Marshall. Andy and his co-workers donated $250.00 cash to the Marshall Area Food Shelf and challenged other businesses to do the same. By 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve afternoon, we had spontaneously raised $1,800.00! It seemed so easy. We recognized the importance of the timing, and how everyone was so caught up in the spirit of the holiday. Later, as we drove to our parents for Christmas Eve dinner, we talked about the possibility of this campaign. We guessed that $6,500.00 would get the job done. The idea stuck with us. We continued to talk about it through the next summer and decided to involve some other people from the community to discuss it.
The first meeting of the organization included: Frank Morris and Delores Garland from Region 8 Welfare, Gene Shrunk, past manager of Shopko, Gary St. Clari from Hy-Vee, Father Tony and Sister Mary Lou from Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Cecil Naatz from the Marshall Jaycees, Pastor David Halaas and Cathy Ulland from First Lutheran Church of Marshall, Sharon Hage of KMHL/KKCK Radio, and myself. I filled everyone in on the idea, the goal, and after some input from Frank and Delores, everyone agreed to go for it!
Determining the Need
The first order of business was to determine the need. It was decided that our organization would act as an umbrella organization, coordinating the efforts of the area churches, businesses, civic organizations, and private citizens. In that role we would provide a master list outlining where the need was so that duplication or accidentally passing over others could be avoided. In addition, our organization would assist in distribution and in public awareness for all the different events and programs. To determine the need, we decided to work off the lists already in place at Holy Redeemer and at Region 8 Welfare. To supplement that list, we asked for the assistance of area clergy, school administrators, and through the media, friends, family, and neighbors.
Food, Gifts and Money, Filling the Need
While the list was being compiled, the job of meeting that need began. An important addition was made at this time, and that was the Marshall Independent, in the form of Ms. Connie Nuese. Connie brought a ton of energy, ideas, and printing assistance to the program. It was a lot of hard work organizing donations, wrapping gifts, putting together food boxes and coordinating volunteers, but we did it. Our first test was home deliveries. We sent our delivery people out not knowing what to expect. Soon all of our volunteer delivery people were back. Many were teary eyed with touching stories of their deliveries. Most were beaming with smiles brought on by the warmth they had felt being a part of this project. But there wasn’t a lot of time for backslapping. We had to get to bed because tomorrow morning was the big day. We were expecting close to 300 people.
The Final Day of Distribution, What A Delight
The volunteers began arriving at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, December 21st. Our doors were going to open at 8:00 a.m. and we had to be ready! First to arrive for the day, like most other days, was Delores Garland of Region 8 Welfare. Delores had become the organizational backbone of Heart To Heart and that day a smooth operation would depend on the smooth handling of the request forms and verification of the persons place on our master list. Each person who came that morning handed the front desk two forms. One was the food list stating family size. The other form was the family breakdown with the age and gender of the children. It took maybe 30 seconds to be processed at the front desk. It was then handed to a volunteer who would go and pick up the proper family size food box and another volunteer would go through the gift inventory with an empty box gathering gifts for each of the listed children. Once a recipient made it to the front of the line, they had their boxes and were out the door in two minutes or less. We had friendly carry-out people helping at the end as well. At one point we were running out of potatoes when a farmer showed up with 200 pounds of the most beautiful, clean potatoes you ever saw. The whole day was like that. Daytons had come through with surplus Santa Bears, two Marshall businessmen called me on that final day and told me, “don’t cut corners, buy whatever you need for food and gifts, I’ll write a check for whatever you are short.” Neither one knew the other had called with the exact same offer. After three or four hours, it was over. Everyone was dog-tired, sharing funny and touching stories of the last few hours. We had food left, toys left and money left. We had achieved our goal with a safety margin to boot!
The Wrap Up
When it was all over and the additional toys had found homes, the food had been delivered to the Marshall Area Food Shelf, the unopened cases returned to the stores, the floor swept, the final hugs and congratulations concluded, HEART TO HEART had provided 367 families with a traditional Christmas dinner including a turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, canned vegetables, potatoes, stuffing, flour, fruit cocktail, Jello, noodles, soups macaroni and cheese, tuna, hard candy, snack crackers, cheese spread, Kool-aid, brown sugar, margarine, bread rolls, whipped topping, hamburger, cheese, and pork sausage. It was hoped that this would not only provide a traditional Christmas dinner, but a residual four-day food supply. 905 children received Christmas gifts, from toy trucks, to books, homemade dolls, pocketknives, gloves, games, and of course, Santa Bears. Over 100 adults also received gifts from socket sets, to mittens, gloves and caps, to blankets and tennis shoes.
Heart to Heart estimates that our total collections in cash, food and gifts exceeded $17,000.00. We distributed $15,300.00 of that. We cut no corners. We didn’t mean to save a dime, but we did. But there in Christmas 1987 and we don’t expect the need to be any less and we hope to expand our scope to include seniors and others who are in area homes and may be over-looked during the holidays. The awareness of Heart to Heart will also be increased so we know we’ll find a place for any and all monies.