Project Santa director says food and gift distribution is held on the "greatest day of her life"
Walking toward the Douglas County Fairgrounds building on that very cold day, I was happy that I had my new jacket to keep out the chill. Trudging through the snow, I was thankful for my new shoes with the rubber tops, to keep the frozen water from soaking my socks.
I was on my way to see how our community helps out people who might not be as fortunate as I am.
Entering the building, I was greeted by students from Rite of Passage who opened the door for everyone who walked in. To my left there was a check-out table and to my right there was a long table with boxes full of food. Many different people milling around.
This was the scene Monday as volunteers distributed food and gifts for Christmas. Holiday greetings were exchanged as the recipient families left with their packages.
I caught the eye of one of the women who was checking people out and I smiled and kept walking, hoping to find what I was looking for without having to bother the busy workers. It didn’t work.
“Can I help you?” I guess I looked a little out of place. I explained I was there to write a story for The Record-Courier and I was introduced to Diane Malone, the Food Closet director, who was one of the people distributing items for the recipients of the food drive.
n How it works. She explained to me the whole process. The recipients of the food are referred to the Carson Valley Community Food Closet by Douglas County Social Services which decides if the families qualify. The Food Closet collects the food for the families, who pick it up from the fairgrounds in time for Christmas.
Looking through the boxes, I saw cans of cranberry sauce, fruit cocktail, packages of rolls, vegetables, and boxes of stuffing. Malone told me that some of the food was purchased and some of the food was donated through local markets. She also told me that Raley’s donated 1,000 pounds of meat.
Most of the food was delivered in a large truck that sat inside of the pavilion. According to Malone, the day was going very smoothly.
“It just went fantastically. The boys from Rite of Passage have helped immensely. The participants could start to pick up their food at 10 a.m. and the boys were here at 9 a.m.,” Malone said.
She said that the Food Closet catered to about 300 Douglas County families. Malone has been working with the food drive for about 10 years. She said that many people volunteer from the community including people who have been helped in prior years.
One volunteer who has been working with Malone for at least seven years is Devonne Reupzel. Reupzel, like Malone, works with the Food Closet year-round.
“I can’t remember exactly how long it’s been. Quite awhile, at least seven or eight years,” Reupzel said. “I just heard about it and I knew I wanted to volunteer services to whoever needs me.”
After perusing the Food Closet side for awhile, I made my way on over to the other side of the Pavilion, where Project Santa Claus was set up. I walked up to the receiving table over there and I first talked with volunteer Bonnie Jones.
Jones has been working with Project Santa Claus for three years. Jones’ job is to buy the presents for the leftover names on the angel trees and the later signups. She uses donated money and said that she usually shops 8-10 hours.
She got started through Marilyn Malkmus, the director of Project Santa Claus.
n A wonderful day. Malkmus has been the director of Project Santa Claus for three years. She said she started as a volunteer and worked her way up. “It really has just been a wonderful day. The sun is out, which is exactly what I have been hoping for. It’s pretty cold, but at least people can get here,” Malkmus said Tuesday. “We were so afraid that the people from Zephyr Cove and Stateline wouldn’t be able to get down. And the volunteers have been such a help.”
Malkmus also was very grateful for the Rite of Passage students. “We are thrilled to have them here. They work so willingly. They never complain, they only say, ‘Yes, sir!'”
This year Project Santa Claus gave toys and clothes to 313 families and 731 children, age 15 and under. The families are directed to Project Santa Claus from the Food Closet. Families sign a form for two gift requests per child and then the requests go on to Angel trees which are located in businesses, churches and stores throughout the county.
Malkmus said that most of the families participate in both the Food Drive and Project Santa Claus. Families can also participate in a used clothing drive, which is a new event.
“Earlier in the year, we had a clothing drive for nice, used clothes. The turn-out was wonderful. R&T Cleaners even donated dry cleaning for the clothes,” Malkmus said.
This year, Christmas trees and wreaths were also donated for families.
“It’s wonderful to be a part of a community that’s not so big that members know they’re taking care of their people,” Malkmus said.
The number of participants is down 10 percent this year, which Malkmus is very happy about. “Someone asked a volunteer what they thought the program would be in 10 years. The volunteer said that they hoped there wouldn’t be a program in 10 years. I really liked that answer,” she said.
Malkmus said that there was a large turnout of family members who Project Santa Claus has helped.
n Welcome help. “Families feel like they are contributing back to a program that helped them. I highly encourage that. Their help is so welcome,” Malkmus said.
The program begins in September when Malkmus starts organizing. The clothes drive starts in October as well as the Kiwanis Bike Drive, which is also run with Project Santa Claus. In November the Angel trees are set up and then the whole thing finishes up in December.
Service groups in Douglas County are also fund-raising all year.
“The 4-H Club sold art projects and then used the money for an Angel. Their director said that they had the best time buying the present and then drinking hot chocolate and wrapping the presents up,” Malkmus said.
Along with the Kiwanis, who donated 100 refurbished bikes, Marsha Tomerlin donated 100 little wheels.
“This is the greatest day of my year,” Malkmus said.
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