Giving Santa a Helping Hand

By Beacon Staff

SOMERS – Christmas is a special time for children, a day dedicated to joy, family and gifts to and from loved ones. And while Santa Claus does his part to bring this happiness to the kids every year, even he needs a little help sometimes.

Enter the hardest-working elf in the Lakeside and Somers area, Leslie Knuth. Last week, Knuth worked her way through the Rack Shack space in Somers, in the basement of the large, log cabin-style building on U.S. Highway 93.

The space, donated by the folks at Tamarack Brewing Company, was full of all sorts of toys, stocking stuffers, winter coats, boots, snow pants, gloves and everything else necessary for a warm, happy Christmas.

Each year, the West Shore Food Bank, of which Knuth is the director, hosts and supports a toy drive dedicated to bringing presents to kids on Dec. 25. For five days, Dec. 10 through Dec. 14, parents in families associated with the food bank can come and pick out two presents and stocking stuffers for their kids, Knuth said, along with winter clothing.

“Hopefully everybody walks out with a coat, snow pants, a hat, gloves, mittens and two presents,” Knuth said as she surveyed the gift collection.

The collection of toys and clothes is gathered throughout the year, Knuth said. In fact, the best time to buy for the next Christmas is immediately after this year’s event, she said, because nearly everything Christmas-themed goes on sale.

Volunteers also braved the crowds on Black Friday to buy stacks of good shoes at a local department store for a relatively inexpensive price, Knuth said. The spoils of that particular battle sat stacked near one wall, where the perusing parents could find their child’s size and preference.

This year, the food bank will help make the holidays better for about 80 kids, Knuth said, which means about 400 packages will head out of the door. The room also features a gift-wrapping station.

Andra Townsley, co-owner of Tamarack Brewing, said the brewery got involved with the toy drive in 2007, after noticing the work Knuth was putting into the project.

“She was the only one taking care of kids at the food bank,” Townsley said.

The brewery dedicated itself to taking care of about 50 kids that year with an angel tree, she said. An angel tree features tags with gifts requested by children, and a passerby can pick out which gifts they would like to contribute and bring those presents back to the brewery.

People really connected with the idea, Townsley said, and nearly all of the kids were matched with their dream Christmas gift.

“It makes you feel good that you can give a child what they want,” Townsley said.

Now the brewery is responsible for about 90 children, she said.

Then, last year, the idea evolved to allow parents of families associated with the food bank to pick out what they think their kids would like. The idea works for everyone, Townsley said, because the kids get their gift and the parents feel more empowered.

The generosity of the Lakeside and Somers communities cannot be overstated, Townsley said, though each year the need for toys grows as families continue to struggle to get back on their feet after the crushing recession.

Toys can be donated year-round, Knuth said, and donors can send checks to the food bank to help Knuth’s wholesale shopping efforts each year. The money is especially helpful in situations such as last week’s realization that there weren’t enough winter clothes for kids ages 5 to 10; the volunteers would later hit the stores to remedy the situation.

And, as is typical of this time of year, the West Shore Food Bank is in need of hams for its clients, Knuth said. The Christmas meals are distributed on Dec. 16 and 17, so any help with hams before then is much appreciated, she said.

Financial troubles persist for many families, Knuth said, and though the food bank cannot help with issues like utility bills, it can help make the Yuletide season a little merrier.

“We can help you with food and we can help you with toys,” Knuth said.

To contact Knuth throughout the year to donate, call 406-261-4560.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.