While the media has taken some shots from Donald Trump in recent months, some of it deserved, I’ve stayed in this business for 42 years in part because of the people I get to work with. They are bright, funny, caring people. If they aren’t, they usually don’t stick around.
One of those who has been with us for a few years now is Judy Buckingham, a sales representative at the Record. In Judy’s world, a miracle happens every year, and this year she had two.
For 23 years, Judy has been organizing the Holiday Gift Giving program in the community. It is a big operation. This year, 219 families
were helped. Family size averages four to five people, so about 1,100 gifts are purchased.
This year’s first miracle came after the city of Little Falls decided to outlaw any displays on public property. The city was trying to be fair to all, but one result was that the Lions Club could no longer put up their holiday lighting display in LeBourget Park. The Lions considered moving the display elsewhere, but were on the verge of taking the year off.
This had a ripple effect on the Holiday Gift Giving program because the warehouse where the Lions store their decorations was the same one that Judy uses to gather and organize the gifts for the Holiday Gift Giving program.
Judy was nearing the panic stage about what to do when she received an email from Kelly Desormey at Minnesota Power. “Kelly wanted to know if I had found a spot yet, and said we have to make this happen.”
Then Minnesota Power took it upon itself to offer up its lawn on 11th Street Northeast as a site for the Lions display. Judy laughed, recalling the moment, “Even though it was the power plant, it had to put a line in.”
On a Monday night, Linda Burggraff sent Judy a photo of the Lions putting up the decorations. Judy thought it was a joke at first, but when Linda convinced her it was really happening, Judy broke down and cried for 30 minutes. “The community came through again,” she said.
Judy first became involved in Christmas charity while working at Camp Ripley from 1983 to 1996. After the Salvation Army dropped the program in Little Falls, Camp Ripley stepped in and ran the Toys for Tots campaign, as it was then called. She hadn’t planned to lead the program, but one thing led to another, and she found herself gradually to be in charge.
She starts each September, sending out letters to those who may be in need of assistance, and also lining up volunteer help. The recipients send in gift requests, mostly for toys and clothing.
Working with about 30 volunteers, including students from the Epic Group from Pierz and the Key Club from Little Falls, approximately 1,100 tags are made up, and hung on Christmas trees at a few businesses around town. Then the call goes out and citizens take a tag off a tree and purchase that gift.
The trees always have more tags than are taken, but some people prefer simply to make a cash donation. The program takes in about $7,000 each year, Judy said, and it is all used to fill the remaining gift requests. Not all adults have their requests filled, but all children receive something. “Every kid gets a toy,” she said. “We’ll get coats and boots for them as well.”
The North Prairie and Bowlus Mission Group makes quilts, ranging from baby to king size each year, which they donate to the program.
Judy said she had one family, all grown and gone now, that every year, everyone in the family asked for a blanket. “And it was a large family,” she said.
One year, a teenager asked for a bed. She was sleeping on the couch because she didn’t have one.
That year’s miracle showed up in the form of an individual who wanted to do something special for someone. A bed was purchased from Lin Furniture, and then Lin Furniture donated the sheets and the mattress cover.
“It’s scary on the one hand,” Judy said, “but not just the community but the entire county is just so giving. They’ve really gotten behind the program.”
This year’s second miracle came late. The Salvation Army had forwarded to Judy the name of a person who qualified to receive gifts. Judy called and left a message with the individual, but she didn’t call Judy back.
December 13 was the deadline, and Judy tried again, but still didn’t hear from the person. Distribution day when all the gifts were given out was Dec. 17.
On Dec. 22, the person belatedly called back. The reason she hadn’t called sooner was because she was in the hospital undergoing treatments for cancer. She had five children.
Judy took down their ages and clothes sizes. It was time for another miracle.
The next day, a $500 donation arrived. On the morning of Christmas Eve, Judy went shopping for her, using the entire $500, met up with the woman at 11:30 a.m. and delivered clothes and toys for all the kids, and something for the woman, too.
Sometimes these days it feels like the entire world has gone mad. But then you hear stories like this, and it helps restore your faith in mankind.
Thank you, Judy, and thank you, Morrison County.
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at [email protected]