Virus forces changes for Community Christmas

The following was submitted by Community Foundation of the Hermann Area:

Believe it or not, many people around Hermann start buying Christmas presents and clothing items this time of year for the Community Christmas Program – they see something on sale that would be needed for a child, or they know they will be out-of-town for the holidays, and want to get an early jump on the shopping.

This year, people also have another reason to shop early – the pandemic! Will we be able to shop at all come winter? We just do not know.

Because we just do not know, the Community Christmas Program wants to announce early that their operation will have to take a new format to keep the program safe during the COVID-19 crisis.

 The Community Christmas Program provides Christmas presents for the underprivileged children in the Gasconade County R-1 School District. In the past few years, the program has averaged serving 70-80 families and between 190 to 250 children each season.

“It is heartbreaking to imagine what it would be like to have no gifts or toys at Christmas," said Dawn Grosse, Hermann's school-based social worker and the program's co-director. "The Community Christmas Program was started to make sure as many unfortunate children as possible receive at least a few gifts under the Christmas tree.  Sadly, there are many families who just cannot afford to purchase toys, clothes, or books at Christmas, so it is our hope to make their holiday special through the gift of giving."

 Normally there are three ways to contribute - you can “adopt” an entire family, donate toys, or send a cash donation to be used to purchase gifts for the children.

“Usually, we would get several hundred toys donated by St. George School, the local banks, The Fitness Source, the Hermann Library, Orscheln’s, The Santa Rampage Pub Crawl, The George Libscomb Motorcycle Ride, and many, many individuals," Grosse said. “It’s distressing to realize that we can’t take toy contributions this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We must put the safety of our children, their families, our donors, and our volunteers foremost. We just cannot chance anyone getting sick. There’s too much touching, shopping, working side-by-side, and general interactions involved in the program.”

This year, the program will have to operate differently. Toys and clothing will be purchased online at Amazon or Wal-Mart, and be shipped directly to the children’s parents. These stores also allow the parents of children being adopted to create “wish lists” online, so when someone wants to shop for that child, the list is right there at the retailer and they can easily shop for the right gift.

“It’s saddening that we won’t see the fun presents others have donated," added Grosse. "It’s a lot of work to organize all the donations, purchase needed gifts, and package everything for a family, and we’ll miss that part of the operation. Also, it’s extremely hard to ask for monetary donations instead of toys or gifts. Of course, people always donate money to help us buy toys for those who do not get adopted, but there is a lot of fun, excitement, and satisfaction in handling just the right toy for that special child. This temporary operation will affect a lot of people who spend considerable time shopping for us. Again, we have to keep everyone safe this year, so we can only accept monetary donations. Those funds will be used to purchase all the gifts online to be shipped directly to the family.”

There's a further explanation of what the changes will mean for this year's program.

“In the past, it has been a great way for a family to have a charitable project and work together shopping for just the right gifts for the children they adopt," said Bartow Molloy, the program's co-director. "In the last few years, many local companies have also adopted families as fun 'team building' events within their organizations. This year, we’ll have to run the program virtually so families and organizations can still adopt a family, but everything will be purchased online and not have to be handled by volunteers.”

Also, this would have been the sixth year for the Santa Rampage, but it too will have to be canceled.

“That event raises over $5,000 to purchase toys and clothing for the Community Christmas program,” Grosse said. “Santa Rampage made a huge difference in being able to purchase the gifts needed for our children we serve. However, the safety of others has to be the priority.”

Community Christmas is a 501 c-3 charity under the Community Foundation of the Hermann Area. All donations received by the Community Christmas Program are used to purchase items or gift cards for the children, and all administrative activities are donated by volunteers.