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Community’s generosity helps spread joy this holiday season

By Heather Graves

BROWN COUNTY – The Greater Green Bay community is stepping up the generosity this holiday season to help those struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is always a need, but this year due to all the issues with COVID, there is a deeper need it seems,” said Jedd Bradley, a community resource officer with the De Pere Police Department.

Organizations are pivoting from normal holiday giving efforts to meet that deeper need in new, social-distanced ways the best they can – with some families seeking help for the first time.

Many of these groups rely on the generosity of the community for donations and support.

The need this year has increased immensely because of the pandemic, but Kourtney Feldhausen, Giving Tree coordinator, said thankfully so has community support.

“Our community always comes through for us,” Feldhausen said. “We are right on target for making this a very special holiday.”

Each year, the Giving Tree’s Holiday Store provides hundreds of Howard-Suamico families with gifts for the holidays.

Last year, it served 481 children. This year, Feldhausen said it has expanded its impact, helping nearly 550 children.

“The families we work with are some of the sweetest, kindest, most hardworking people we know,” she said. “Being able to support them during a time in their life when they are struggling is both humbling and an honor.”

Chad Decker, Gifts for Teens coordinator, said he recognizes how trying this year has been and echoes the importance of extending a helping hand.

“Consistency is so vitally important to kids, and even in the best of times can be a struggle to maintain,” Decker said. “The rapidly changing fallout from COVID has made that task nearly impossible. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to be a teenager during these times, and anything we can do to provide some normalcy in their lives is critical. The gift is so much more than a thing. It is a statement that says ‘You matter, you are important to us and you deserve to feel included, too.’”

Unfortunately, this year’s limitations have impacted donations.

“COVID has prevented us from having our gift collection parades and forced us to fundraise virtually,” he said. “Those parades usually account for approximately half of our collection totals.”

This year, Decker said staff from each Green Bay fire station posted a short video on social media to help promote donations.

“The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive but, as of right now, we are roughly 50 percent behind our total from last year,” he said.

Donations are still being accepted and new, unwrapped gifts can be dropped off at any of the eight Green Bay fire stations.

Bradley said this year’s Shop with a Cop event had to be scaled back because of the coronavirus.

“We didn’t do the bus ride this year, or the breakfast with the kids this year,” he said. “But the officers, including myself, look forward to this every year. It gives us the opportunity to make a connection on a positive note instead of being dispatched to something that is negative.”

Bradley said 84 children throughout the county participated in this year’s event, about half of what is normal.

The Salvation Army of Green Bay is set to help more families than ever before.

Organizers anticipate serving 900 more children than last year.

“We know there are people that might not have received Christmas assistance in the past, but have been impacted by the pandemic and needed to reach out for help this season,” said Nicole Hanley, community relations coordinator. “We are prepared and ready to serve, largely thanks to our generous community that supports the work we do.”

The Howe Resource Center, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the community’s most vulnerable, has expanded its generosity with its 12 Days of Howe Holidays.

“We are extending our impact and meeting a unique need when families are really struggling,” said Amanda Johnson, executive director.

Johnson said 250 families throughout Brown County will receive gifts, hygiene products and essential items thanks to the generosity of the community.

“The support from the community has been amazing,” she said. “We set up an Amazon wish list, and not a day goes by without a package showing up.”

Green Bay First is handing out more than 500 gifts at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, for its Great Toy Giveaway event.

Wrapped gifts will be handed out to kids ages 0-18 in drive-thru fashion while supplies last.

The New Community Shelter is able to continue its annual Project Christmas Present program thanks to the outpouring generosity from the community.

“We have received some very generous donations for Project Christmas Present, but it is definitely down from previous years so far,” said Kris Olson, director of development. “But we get calls and people stopping in every day. Besides, our residents are always thankful no matter what to have a place to call home and people to celebrate with. This community continues to carry the New Community Shelter in their hearts, so we feel very blessed for that.”

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