AP NEWS

BVCA’s Wish List program puts presents under the trees of those in need

December 14, 2017 GMT

Christmas songs filled the air in the National Guard Armory as people signed off next to their names with candy cane-shaped pens on Wednesday morning.

It was the culmination of Blue Valley Community Action’s Wish List program, which gives Christmas presents to foster children and families in need with help from the community.

For the past couple of weeks, Christmas trees at the Wal-Mart and Shopko in Beatrice were trimmed with little paper stars that each featured a Christmas wish list for a child in need. Shoppers could pick them up, do a little shopping and bring the gifts back to Blue Valley.

On Wednesday, those presents—hidden carefully from prying eyes inside big, plastic bags—were picked up by families who were also able to find clothing, household items and even some brand-new toys donated by organizations around Gage County.

This year, the Wish List program served 68 families and 157 foster children, Blue Valley Community Action’s Shelly Franzen said. Not all of the stars got picked from the trees this year, she said, but that’s where the work of donors and organizations come in.

The American Legion Auxiliary, Beatrice Public Schools, St. Paul’s School, St. John’s School, Wal-Mart, Shopko, Gage County United Way, Priority Printing, the Four Seasons group at the Beatrice State Developmental Center, as well as other businesses and organizations, all contributed to the cause, said Donna Leikam, who’s been working with the program for more than 20 years. They also had a sizable donation of brand-new toys for families to take home, thanks to the Clatonia Cares organization.

Leikam wasn’t sure exactly how long it’s been going on, but it’s been around at least since she started in 1996. She organized the project for the past 10 years, she said, but passed the torch to Franzen this year.

People have been generous this year, Franzen said. One child got a guitar he’d asked for and several people brought in brand new bikes. There were no telescopes this year—a traditionally popular gift, Leikam said—but there were plenty of science kits. There were about five skateboards donated and even some drones.

Kids also get a $25 voucher for clothes at Wal-Mart or Shopko, and parents who bring in an electric bill also get a $50 credit toward paying it.

Sometimes, the things children want most fall into place, Leikam said. Last year, she had a child who was a big fan of Harry Potter. Despite their search, Wish List organizers couldn’t find appropriate gifts related to the boy wizard.

Then they got a surprising donation. A woman who had collected Harry Potter memorabilia dropped off a huge selection of all things Potter.

“We could not purchase anything Harry Potter last year,” Leikam said. “And I was able to give that child a Harry Potter wand in a box. That mother cried, she was so happy.”

But the Christmas season is not the only time that Blue Valley is looking for help. They provide services throughout the year, Franzen said. Things like homeless assistance, emergency shelters, the Head Start program and housing assistance are a few of the services they offer.

“We always need donations for emergency assistance,” Franzen said. “Someone needing a place to stay, so we can put them in a hotel or emergency shelters. Clothing and we have a food pantry at Southeast Community College in the office there.”

A lot of the physical donations that BVCA received was on display across dozens of tables in the armory. Donated clothes, toys, pots, pans and even Christmas decorations could be taken home by participants.

Blue Valley always likes to see Christmas stuff at the Wish List giveaway, Franzen said, because a lot of people don’t have much to decorate with. They’d even given away a few Christmas trees on Wednesday, which will make a perfect companion to the gifts, she said.

“I love when the parent says, ‘Now I’ve got to go home and wrap presents,’” Franzen said. “Because that’s what I want. I want the people who are going to wrap the presents and put them under the tree.”

Franzen said she hoped that people will remember Blue Valley at other times of the year and consider making a donation, no matter what it might be.

“Whatever they’re willing to bring or give,” she said, “we find a place for it.”