Small Towns Have Big Hearts

‘Tis the season for volunteers to deliver holiday meal gift boxes

By Dianna Troyer

Christmas decorations in window

Karen Carr had a gratifying interruption while painting a dazzling holiday scene on a window at a Carlin business.

“I was surprised when a man walked up and gave me a $100 donation to buy whatever food was needed to put in Christmas gift boxes for those in need,” she says. “He had received a box the year before and was back on his feet financially and wanted to help someone else.”

Carlin business owners hire Karen and her helpers to paint festive scenes on their windows. She uses the money to buy food for holiday meals for those in need.

“Life happens and sometimes people need temporary help at the holidays for all kinds of reasons,” says Karen, administrative assistant at the Carlin Police Department. “Maybe someone had a job layoff or death in the family. It is what it is. We don’t judge. We’re here to help at the holidays.”

Karen Carr paints windows in Carlin to raise money for holiday food boxes given to local families. Photos courtesy of Carlin Police Department

For 20 years, Karen and a cadre of about 12 Carlin volunteers have given boxes brimming with food for holiday meals to about 20 struggling families.

“Seeing the expressions on kids’ faces makes the program worth it for us,” Karen says. “Kids should have something at the holidays and know someone cares about them no matter what circumstances they are in.”

Along with food, volunteers deliver gifts designated on an Angel Tree at the Wells Rural Electric Co. office in Carlin.

“We’ve always had every tag taken, and someone has bought what was requested,” Karen says. “People here are generous.”

Students at the Carlin Combined School contribute canned goods they gather. Those donations and others are stored at the police department until distribution day.

“It’s a long Friday evening to get it organized and packed,” Karen says. “We like to deliver on the Saturday morning after kids start their Christmas break so they have plenty of food during the holidays.”

A Joint Effort in Wells

Volunteers with similar programs in Wells and West Wendover say the satisfaction they feel is a priceless gift.

A Christmas turkey, potatoes, vegetables, bread, and butter are not the only items stocked in gift boxes for about 30 families in Wells.

Frank Sharp, director of the JAS Foundation in West Wendover, packs donated hams for local families.

In conjunction with Roy’s Market, a nonprofit called FISH—Friends in Service Helping—provides those items along with boxed mixes for quick holiday baking: pancakes and muffins for breakfast over Christmas vacation along with dessert mixes for cookies and cakes.

Those donations are combined with the bounty collected by Wells Combined School’s more than 300 students, who host canned food drives at the homecoming powder puff football game and during trick or treating.

“Our student council set a goal of gathering 1,200 pounds of canned goods for gift boxes for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” teacher Amy Hunsaker says.

A social studies and leadership teacher at Wells High School, she oversees the annual holiday food campaign.

“We work with the Knights of Columbus on those projects,” Amy says of the nonprofit based at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.

Those seeking a box from FISH apply at Wells city offices.

About 100 West Wendover families benefit from a box brimming with food for holiday meals. Photos courtesy of JAS Foundation

Along with food, recipients of gift boxes from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints receive a note and a song from youth who put together the boxes.

“It’s really neat to watch the kids pack and deliver the boxes,” says Katelin Atkin, president of the church’s Young Women Organization. “While they’re doing it, they’re also thinking about Jesus and ways to become more like him and to do his ministry. You can see a light and love in their eyes.”

Katelin estimates they distribute 20 to 30 boxes to families who are struggling financially or just need encouragement.

Ranchers donate meat, while other church members give a box of potatoes, oranges, or other produce along with canned goods.

At the Wells Silver Sage Senior Center, about 60 households benefit twice a month year-round from food distributed through the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.

“People really appreciate it,” says Gaila Montoya, the center’s program director. “We have about 25 seniors who qualify for additional boxes, too.”

Casinos Provide in West Wendover

Wells High School students Falen Iveson, left, and Carolina Johnson pack food boxes for local families. Photo by Amy Hunsaker

In West Wendover, casinos donate food for about 100 holiday baskets.

The baskets are distributed from the senior citizen center. Managed by the JAS Foundation, its motto is “serving the unfortunate and forgotten in the Wendover area.”

“Families are really appreciative and excited to get the boxes,” says Daniel Corona, center director.

This year, Wendover Nugget Hotel and Casino and the Peppermill donated hams for Christmas.

“Meat prices are higher this year than previously,” Daniel says. “Those who get a box of food will be relieved to have a nice holiday meal without being financially stressed.”