By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – Around 50 students in need will be able to receive clothing for the holidays later this year with the Ashwaubenon Optimist Club once again sponsoring the annual Family Christmas Shopping Program.
Judeann Maslinski, wife of an Ashwaubenon Optimist member and coordinator of the program since 2000, said the program’s goal is to spend the allotted funds, $125 per child, on clothing items for the identified students who attend school in Ashwaubenon, either resident students or those who are going there under open enrollment.
“We try and keep it at around 50 kids, but that might vary…,” Maslinski said. “I pair-up Ashwaubenon Optimist members who are willing to take a family shopping.”
Amy Dillenberg, a social worker with the Ashwaubenon School District, helps the Optimist Club with the process of identifying students who could benefit from the program.
“We identify, or we have families kind of self-identify if they’re in need of assistance,” Dillenberg said. “Families that are willing and open to receiving some assistance, then the social work team goes through a process to match them with an appropriate holiday program.”
Dillenberg noted the Optimist Club is willing to help families with older children or children of multiple ages.
“Middle and high school kids normally would have more items of need, so we really focus on getting items of need to make the holiday a good time for families,” she said. “I just think our teenagers so often (the need is) clothes. They don’t have the appropriate clothes to participate in all the sports and do all the fun things they want to do and come to school and look good, so the Optimist Club really steps up and helps their parents get basic needs covered for the kids, so they have a good holiday.”
Once Dillenberg provides the Optimist Club a list of students to participate in the program, Maslinski said an Optimist member and/or spouse will take a family shopping, typically the parent or parents.
“We have a budget,” Maslinski said. “They are allowed spend up to $125 per child.”
Because the program’s goal is to spend the money on clothes, such as shoes, socks, winter clothing, etc., Maslinski said gifts certificates and toys are not purchased.
Maslinski said the president of the Optimist Club each year will send a letter to the families shortly before Thanksgiving to inform them that an Optimist member or spouse will contact them to arrange for going shopping.
“The Optimist member can go and meet the person at a store that the person picks out and help them shop,” she said. “They know how much money they can spend, and they know what they can get.”
Maslinski said another option is for a parent go to a store and shop, then call an Optimist member who will pay for the items.
She said club members could also pick up parents to go shopping, if necessary, and then take them back home.
“You meet all kinds of different people, and you try and respect their needs and the way they want this to work…,” Maslinski said. “Some of these (parents) are so good at shopping that it’s incredible what they can get out of $125.”
Mike Skiffington, who took over Oct. 1 as the Ashwaubenon Optimist Club president, said he has participated in the program with his wife to go shopping.
“We got a call from a mom after they had done this, and she said, ‘The girls are in there trying on all the clothes,’” Skiffington said. “This is about an hour after we left them, so you can see the happiness of doing it.”
Skiffington said the Ashwaubenon Optimist Club is able to pay for the Family Christmas Shopping Program, the club’s biggest program, with fundraisers the organization holds throughout the year.
Mother gives back
Skiffington noted a mother whose children benefited from the program while facing difficult financial times more than a decade ago wrote the Optimist Club a thank you letter this year and also sent the organization a check for $375 to help purchase clothes for three children.
“You don’t expect this,” Skiffington said. “I’ve never seen it before, as far as I know.”
The letter stated the woman is “happy to provide your club with the money to assist others who may find themselves in difficult financial situations, unable to bring Christmas joy in the way that they had hoped.”
Maslinski said the club will seek to wrap up the shopping by around mid-December to assure all the families on the list will be helped for the holidays.