Keeping Kids Warm Lions in Boardman, Ohio, learned two things from their third Coats for Kids Project, says club secretary Judy Jones. “As we received applications for the coats program, we were amazed about the depth of need in our community. We heard about lack of health insurance, evictions, foreclosures, no child support, reduced wages, job loss, cars repossessed and minimum wage jobs. These are hardworking people who have fallen victim to the economy. Our Boardman families are hurting.” Jones says that she and other Lions also discovered a second fact—how generous people are to others when they’re in need. “Children find it difficult to concentrate when their families are in such distress,” Jones points out. “We do what we can to support them.” The Coats for Kids project was begun in Boardman after project chairperson Laura Hancock read about a similar project in LION Magazine. “We began with families from Boardman Center because of our long partnership with that school. Due to the overwhelming response, we extended the program to any student who lives in Boardman,” she explains. A total of 52 children from 26 families received new outerwear. “We were thrilled with the generosity of the Boardman Center staff and parents. This gave us hope that not only is there a need, but there are also many people who wanted to help us with this project.” Lions designated money for the project and also received many donations from the community. “We continue our fundraising efforts, so that no family will be turned away due to lack of funds,” Jones says. Lions, Kids and Santa = Happy Holidays When it comes to spreading holiday joy, one Lions club in northern California is finding that they can get the job done with a minimum of members and a maximum of community support. McKinleyville Lion Cyndi Bainbridge says Lions began sponsoring the Winter Express in 2008 after another community group stopped doing so. “At the time, we had six members. Since then, two of our longtime members have passed away, but we’ve gained three new members—two of whom joined because of their involvement with Winter Express,” she explains. More than 600 kids in kindergarten through third grade are allowed to choose four gifts for family members or themselves, have them wrapped by volunteers and even sit on Santa’s lap where they can have a chat and receive a candy cane. Lions spend approximately $2,500 a year on the program. Last year, Lions received a $500 grant from a community organization, all of which was used to buy gifts. The majority of the funds are raised by yard sales, and Bainbridge says some individuals and community organizations also donate money. Two local businesses also volunteer as dropoff locations so that people can leave gift items year-round. Members of the nearby Trinidad Lions Club, with whom McKinley Lions have occasionally partnered on other projects, also volunteer on the Winter Express. Lions ask for a $2 donation per child, and Bainbridge says kids sometimes bring extra cash to pay for students who can’t spare the money. No child is turned away, and each is given a “Santa buck” at the door and a hand stamp that lets them shop for presents. She says it’s often the most impoverished kids who give a little bit more at the door. “Most of it is in dimes, nickels and pennies, and their group takes longer to choose gifts because they want to make sure that they choose the most perfect gift,” Bainbridge points out. Not all presents are new, but they’re cleaned and repaired before being displayed for selection. “This is the only way that we can keep expenses within our budget,” Bainbridge explains. “Each item that is donated means that one less needs to be purchased. We do not turn away any donation.” Some don’t make it to the gift tables, but Lions save them for yard sales they conduct to raise money for Winter Express. “Committee members are always shopping for bargains. Some of them hit yard sales every weekend during the summer, and we hit the chain stores after Christmas to get gift items and supplies at a discount for the next year,” she says. “A lot of times yard sales and businesses will drop the price of items since they know they’re for Winter Express.” Lions get plenty of thanks from the kids who participate and their parents. “One thanked us and told us that this was the nicest thing that anyone had ever done for him and his mom,” Bainbridge says. And that’s why when Winter Express arrives again this year, Lions and volunteers will be happily waiting for that little boy and many other children like him.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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