Sharing the community?s kindness for twenty years
The holiday season has been merrier for a group of Rhinelander volunteers who have been delivering Christmas cheer to Oneida County children for the past two decades. Kindness for Kids is an all-volunteer charitable organization with one goal this time of year: spreading the Christmas spirit.
“We’re really just a means to share the generosity of the community,” said volunteer Bob Dionne.
Oneida County Social Services provides Kindness for Kids with family information such as children’s ages and wish lists. The selection process is based solely on need.
“Protecting the identity of the participants is of utmost importance,” Dionne said. “Once we notify the families they have been selected, each one is assigned a number which stays with the family from the time we begin filling the bags until the gifts are picked up.”
Large donation boxes are placed in various sponsor stores, restaurants, hotels. After only a couple of weeks, there are already enough donated toys for the volunteers to begin playing Santa.
“Yes, the elves are at it already,” Dionne chuckled. “A lot of the donations, monetary and toys come from individuals, clubs, the Tavern League and collection jars. The outpouring of support from the communities is just amazing.” The ‘elves’ use the cash donations to shop for some of the more hard-to-fill Christmas lists.
The group has gotten Rhinelander High School involved as well, with collection challenges held during sports events. Said volunteer Alan Newman, “There will be boxes for collections at one girls’ basketball game, a boys’ basketball game and a hockey game. The student athletes challenge the opposing teams to see who can bring the goods.” He noted that students, parents and school staff is all encouraged to participate by donating during those games.
The organization has come a long way since its inception in 1994. They initially collected used toys which were then painstakingly cleaned, checked for missing parts, wrapped and personally delivered. Thirty eight families were served that first year. Thereafter, only new toys were collected as the program continued to grow, and change. Last year 145 families; nearly 400 children in the county had a merrier Christmas than they otherwise may have.
“We consider ourselves a means of spreading the generosity, love, sharing and kindness of the community,” according to Dionne. “We simply collect, organize, package and make sure it gets to those in need.”
Another source of generosity, Kindness for Kids has found a permanent home in the Masonic Lodge.
“Our first headquarters was the Armory; every year we spent a lot of time locating a place large enough to accommodate our growing program,” Dionne said. “The Masons have been very generous in letting us store our inventory here, and have a permanent space.”
There is a nucleus of about seven volunteers who do much of the organizing, but helpers come and go, and perform a variety of duties.
“It’s become a total community organization,” Dionne said, “which is what we envisioned when we started.”
“We have a lot of fun. We laugh a lot, and cry a lot,” said volunteer Sandy Edington. “It can be very emotional.”
So on a cold morning before Thanksgiving, several ‘elves’ sorted through some of the dolls, mittens, remote controls cars and pink ponies that have been collected to fulfill an anonymous child’s Christmas wish. This may be the twentieth year of spreading Christmas cheer for some of these volunteers, but if promoting the holiday spirit is what they are all about, these elves have nailed it.