Posted 12/08/15 (Tue)
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
As the joyous holiday spirit lingers in the air for much of the month, some families start to feel the stress and heartache of financial hardship, and the holidays aren’t quite so joyous for them. This is a time that is supposed to be filled with fun and excitement, where family and friends come together to celebrate and give thanks. But for the less fortunate and those who are struggling this season, that isn’t always the case, especially when children are involved.
The Watford City Eagles Auxiliary is hosting the ‘Giving Tree Project’ for the third year in a row. Previous to the Eagles Auxiliary hosting the event, the Eagles carried on the tradition for close to 25 years with Social Services.
Two Christmas trees have been set up and placed at two banks in town - First International Bank & Trust and Cornerstone Bank. Both trees are filled with tags that include a number instead of a name, the age of that individual, whether they are male or female, certain interests they might have, and their clothing sizes. There are also miscellaneous tags as well requesting cleaning products, blankets, paper products, and gift cards.
“The needs were a suggestion from the McKenzie County Social Services Department,” stated Claudia Fegert, Eagles Auxiliary president. “Social Services has provided us with a list of 25 families including 58 children this year. According to Social Services, there was a big need last year, but an even bigger need this year with a lot of people out of work or their hours getting cut.”
The idea of the ‘Giving Tree’ is for people who have the means to help, to take a tag, purchase one or more of the items on the tag, and then return the items to the respective bank. Collections will be taken through Dec. 15, but items that come in through Dec. 18 won’t be turned away.
A Christmas party will then be held for the families at the Eagles Club on Saturday, Dec. 19, from 11 a.m. until about 2 p.m., where they can come enjoy a hot lunch, visit with Santa, and pick up their Christmas gifts, along with a food box, complete for a Christmas dinner at their home.
“Santa will be there,” Fegert said. “And we usually try and serve the kids a snack for those that wish to participate. I think we are going to be serving hot dogs and chips this year. It’s kind of nice for the kids that are waiting in line to visit Santa. There’s kind of this lull to fill, and offering the kids a snack or lunch has been a good way to fill it. And Santa usually brings the kids a treat as well.”
After all the items come in from the tags on the trees, the Eagles Auxiliary members pick the items up, and then get busy working on separating out all of the families, and then will supplement what they feel is needed for each individual or family. According to Fegert, the Eagles and the Masons always purchase coats, boots, mittens, and hats for each child. And a lot of those items are purchased through monetary donations or from money pinned on the Monetary Tree located at the Eagles.
“We try to get not just toys, but clothing, paper products, cleaning items, and personal items,” stated Fegert. “And whatever didn’t get bought and donated off the tags, we then go shopping and supplement for each individual or family. For example, several kids last year wanted bikes, so we were able to buy those kids bikes.”
Fegert says that once they have all the items, the Eagles Auxiliary members will usually have a couple of nights of wrapping gifts. She says they try and keep items for all the families about the same so that everyone gets about the same amount of gifts. That way one child doesn’t end up with 20 gifts while another child ends up with one.
Last year, the ‘Giving Tree Project’ was able to provide Christmas presents, food boxes, and other needed items to 27 families, including 74 children.
“We want to give each family a box of cleaning items, toiletries, and stuff that really adds up,” says Fegert. “The Eagles give a complete Christmas dinner box and we add gift cards to each of them so they can purchase fresh produce as well. A lot of families can’t afford a lot of that extra stuff like snacks for the kids, so we try to add some healthy snacks like fruit roll-ups, and throw in some Mac & Cheese boxes and stuff to make spaghetti.”
Fegert says the biggest question she is asked is how come there is such a need here?
“Well, not everyone here works in the oil field,” stated Fegert. “The market has slowed down and the cost of living is still pretty high compared to other places. There are families that have stayed here and they are struggling. The children shouldn’t have to suffer because of that. So, we don’t turn anyone away. We want to help those who really need it.”
Fegert says the whole project is a lot of work, but come the day of the Christmas party when they get to see the kids’ faces light up and they are embraced by the thankful parents and children, it’s all worth it, and that’s why they continue on with the tradition of the ‘Giving Tree Project.’
“It definitely is a lot of work,” says Fegert. “But when it’s all said and done, and you get hugs from the parents and kids, it’s all worth it.”
This year, Whiting Oil & Gas called Fegert wanting the name of every child on her list. They wanted to buy every child a gift. And that is just one example of community support says Fegert.
“The people of McKenzie County are very giving,” said Fegert. “They were giving last year and the year before and the community just continues to be supportive. We’re very thankful.”
This program is successful because of the community. Without private donations from individuals, companies, and funding from other various groups, the ‘Giving Tree Project’ wouldn’t be able to help families celebrate the holidays the way they were meant to be celebrated, without the stress and heartache.
If you know of a family who could really benefit this holiday season and is struggling, please talk to that individual or family, make sure they are okay with their name being given out to the Eagles Auxiliary, and then call Fegert at 701-842-6186, or leave a message at the Eagles. If you want to donate items, you can either drop them off at either bank or mail them to the Eagles Auxiliary, in care of Claudia Fegert, PO Box 1403, Watford City, ND 58854.