As the name would suggest, Christmas in Fillmore County is an annual giving program that’s been helping needy citizens of the county for over 30 years. Recently, Samantha Payne (Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development) and Lynn Mensink (Outreach Case Manager, Semcac) sat down to tell about the program, and its history.
Mensink stated, “The Rural Concerns Taskforce started this way back when the farmers were having the crisis, in the ‘70s… they were worried about the farm kids having a real good Christmas, and it started out with a 4-H group, or two, that wanted to buy some gifts for kids. Sheila Craig was one of the founding persons, and she was with Extension. Semcac has always been involved, and Fillmore County Advocates, I believe. It started before I was here, and I’ve been here 23 years.”
Since that modest beginning, the program has grown steadily, and now has over 200 recipient families each year. Mensink pointed out that when Thanksgiving falls very late in November, as it does this year, the timelines for Christmas in Fillmore County become compressed, so she expects a frantic rush to the finish line. “It’s just kind of a mess, but we get it done,” she added. Payne explained that the planning, or work on the program begins early, stating, “Our first meeting was October 2 this year.”
Mensink shared that, “We have three drop-off spots, three distribution sites: Spring Valley, Preston, and Rushford. We do a sponsorship thing… we send out letters to the sponsors, and to those who participated last year. The sponsors can either send us money or request a certain number of kids… What we do then is give out the information about the children.” Sponsors do not get the name of the recipient, but receive information including the child’s age, gender, and wish list. This year, sign-up sheets were posted at the various food shelf locations in the county, as well as at Public Health. Payne added, “And this year they got out to all of the schools, as well.”
There are no firm rules about what can and cannot be given, but Mensink and Payne said warm winter clothing, blankets, and toys are among the most common items given. The program suggests a range of $35 to $45 to be spent on each recipient.
Mensink pointed out that the program is supported by many, many organizations, businesses, and individuals. She specifically named Valley Design, saying, “They’ve been helping for 10 years, but for the last three or four years, they’ve been bringing us gift cards… They’ve been really amazing!” She also pointed out that some local banks have been generous givers over the years.
When asked their favorite memories about Christmas in Fillmore County, Mensink stated, “I have people who are now sponsors, who once were recipients.” She also told of a woman who volunteered to be a sponsor, and their recipient was a young girl who listed “unicorns” on her wish list. Mensink explained, “So they had a few things, some clothes and a few little unicorn things, and her husband had found this huge, gigantic stuffed unicorn. It was just gorgeous!” She said the huge unicorn was a packaging challenge, but was a definite hit with the recipient.
Mensink and Payne agreed that putting on Christmas in Fillmore County is a big job, they love doing it. They named Ann Detlefsen (Fillmore County Advocates), Sheila Craig, Mike Cruse (Extension), Heather Barth, and Raquel Marlow as some of the people who keep the program going. Mensink added, “You’ve gotta really be acceptable to hugs, because some of these families really don’t know what they would have done otherwise!”
This year’s distribution dates will be Spring Valley: December 12 from 2-6 p.m., Rushford: December 16 at the Semcac office from 1-4:30 p.m., and Preston: December 18 from 5-8 p.m., and the 19th from 9 a.m. to noon. Although Christmas is right around the corner, Mensink said, “We never turn anyone away, ever!” She added that no financial qualification is required. Anyone in need from Fillmore County is welcome. Anyone interested in being a sponsor or recipient is asked to call Lynn Mensink at Semcac, (507) 765-2761.