The eventful year of 2020 has impacted everyone on some level or another. In a year of struggles and adversity, many times communities have bounded together to help those in need.
As the year nears its close, one local program is asking for the community to step up once again to provide a holiday that won’t soon be forgotten.
The annual Christmas Basket Food and Toy Drive organized by the Eagles Lodge and North Lincoln Fire and Rescue (NLFR) have recently been feeling the impact of this tough year.
“In the 11 years that I’ve been doing this, I don’t remember a year that we’ve ever been this short on toys,” said Marc McPherson of NLFR.
Typically, the program supplies 300-350 North Lincoln County families with toys for every child under 17, as well as about a week’s worth of food that includes a Christmas dinner of a turkey or ham.
“Usually we do between 2-3 toys per child. But if our toy donations are down, we might have to cut back on that,” Eagles Lodge member Alaina Jones said.
Jones said cash and toy donations are down so far this year but they have been able to receive some funding that includes a grant from both the Siletz Tribe and the Lincoln County Echo Mountain Fire Emergency Social Service group. The Eagles and NLFR have also received a helping hand from the Lincoln City Elks Lodge #1886, who will be donating both cash and volunteer work to the cause.
“The Elks used to do Christmas baskets for years, then we joined with the Eagles before the Elks went away for a few years,” said Elks member Bettye Ruth Gamester.
According to Jones, the Elks and Eagles along with other local churches, all worked together during the holiday season to create one organized program that covers all of Lincoln City and beyond.
“We joined forces so we could eliminate those double dipping,” Jones said. “Because this program is really for the needy, not the greedy.”
After helping out 300 families last year that included around 1,200 people and the delivery of 500 boxes of food, the program leaders are hoping to help even more due to the fires in North Lincoln County that have displaced hundreds of residents.
“Normally we kind of supplement toys, but this year with the fires and everything else, we are basically going to be giving some of these folks their entire Christmas,” McPherson said. “It’s something we normally do not have to do at that kind of scale.”
But to help more people, the program will need the backing of the community. McPherson said toy donation bins are scattered in businesses all over town and toys and cash can be donated directly to the fire station at 2525 NW Hwy 101 in Lincoln City. Applications for the program can also be picked up at the fire station, or the Lincoln City Hippie Store at 2850 NE Hwy 101, says Gail Hogan, Secretary for the Elks Lodge.
“For the first year ever, the applications are also available online at nlfr.org,” McPherson noted. “They can be printed out and turned in.”
Luckily, several community groups and citizens have already been helping the program, including the St. Peter the Fisherman Lutheran Church, who will once again allow the Eagles to use their facility for free as they prepare the fully sanitized Christmas baskets. The Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce also has gotten into the giving spirit by having their members order dozens of toys for the program.
“It’s amazing the people that have come together and have tried to make this work in the horrible times we’re in right now,” McPherson said.
On Dec. 5, the Eagles will be moving into the church with their toys as they prepare to sort, wrap and fill baskets with toys and food until the delivery date on Dec. 19. Like every year, McPherson plans to be on the delivery route to help make this holiday season a little easier for families.
“We all have stories of how important this program is,” McPherson said. “One year, myself and four others were in a fire truck delivering food and toys to a little single wide mobile home up in Otis. The mother opened the door and she had two little boys and a little girl. The house was immaculate, but you could tell they just didn’t have any spare money.
“We brought in the toys and the two boys went crazy knowing they’d be getting presents for Christmas. But the little girl, we noticed, just kind of stuck to her mom’s side. Then we bring in the food and we set it down and head to leave, then the little girl went over to her mom and asked, ‘Does this mean we are going to have food for Christmas?’
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house… and that’s really the impact that this program has on families.”