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The season of giving

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Some Pine River-Backus families are struggling to put food on the table throughout the year, making it that much more difficult to buy Christmas gifts for their children or buy a holiday meal.

Fortunately, there are many generous people and businesses who help support organizations like the Pine River Area Food Shelf and the Pine River-Backus Family Center, which helps make the holiday season a little bit brighter for those in need.

At age 4 months, Layla Wendt may not quite understand what Christmas is about just yet, but the Pine River baby girl will have gifts beneath the tree for her first Christmas, thanks to the Christmas for Kids program.

Alecia Treague, Layla’s mother, said both she and her boyfriend are working, but money is tight. They signed up for the Christmas for Kids program and asked for diapers, clothing and a toy that lights up and makes sounds for Layla. Last week, Treague visited the family center to pick up Layla’s gifts from the program.

“It’s awesome,” Treague said with a smile. “It’s really helpful.”

Christmas For Kids will provide 174 Pine River and Backus children, ages 0-18, from 69 families with Christmas gifts this year. They try to give each child a small and a large gift and a game for the entire family, said Karen Bresnahan, Christmas for Kids coordinator.

“People are so generous for this program,” said Bresnahan. She said they received $2,740 in donations this year from individuals and families for Christmas for Kids.

The Pine River Area Food Shelf, managed by the family center, has been providing for families for 30 years. It is located in the basement of First Lutheran Church.

On Friday, Dec. 21, about 135 families will pick up their holiday boxes, which provides them with a ham, scalloped potatoes, a can of cranberries and apple pie for dessert to help them create a special meal for Christmas. The food is mostly purchased locally.

Jodi Perry, food shelf coordinator, said the majority of the 500-600 people she and her volunteers provide food for each month are children, but they also serve a lot of seniors. Between January to October, the food shelf served 1,542 households and 4,745 individuals with 75 new households who signed up for food assistance.

They provided 118 Thanksgiving boxes to families in November.

The food shelf is financially supported primarily through donations. Its budget is made up of 93 percent donations and 7 percent in grants. Perry said the food shelf has about 35 to 40 volunteers.

“The community is a huge support. That’s how we keep it going,” said Kari Shipp, an AmeriCorps VISTA worker who is working with the food shelf.

The food shelf wouldn’t stay open if it weren’t for the generosity of the community. Students collected food donations and area churches gave food and monetary donations, as did many service organizations and businesses for the holiday boxes. Many individuals and families also gave of their time and money to help others less fortunate than themselves.

The Pine River-Backus Family Center offers many programs to help area families from infants to seniors. In addition to its programs and partnerships with other groups and agencies, the center has a small family support fund that allows it to help families with gas vouchers to get to their jobs or doctor’s appointments or to help when their car breaks down.

If they can, the families often pay back the small loans to help other families in the future, said Leslie Bouchonville, family center director.

The family center, a nonprofit organization, serves about 300-400 children and as many adults each year.