A helping hand

Jane Wine has been shopping for Christmas gifts all month.

“I’m wrapping them right now. I have about 200,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “All these presents will not go under the tree.”

Secretary for the Front Royal Elks Lodge, Wine joins other area program organizers in helping bring Christmas to area families that would otherwise go without this Christmas.

The Shenandoah Angels Network still needs to adopt out dozens of Shenandoah County families — most of whom organizer Ann Shanholtz said were added in the last week.

“It’s hard. This is a lot,” she said.

Forced to cut off late gift requests this year after 46 new names came in during the last week, she said it was a decision she hated having to make.

“People have some serious emergencies,” she said. Last year, after making deliveries, she was inundated with requests on Christmas Eve.

“We made it work, but I’ve never had this many this late,” she said. “But this is also the first year that we’ve done more focus on the teenagers.”

Serving children up to age 18, she said the older ones have mainly asked for clothes. Shanholtz will accept donations until Dec. 23.

Successfully fulfilling its goal of providing for 575 Shenandoah County children, the Ruritan Empty Stocking Fund now hopes to get a start on next year.

Though it didn’t reach its $33,000 goal, Treasurer Jim Ballowe said that a holdover from last year’s funds enabled organizers to spend $50 on each child up to age 3 and $70 on each child between the ages of age 4 and 12.

The goal was $3,000 more than it was last year, accounting for rising costs of children’s toys, but slower than usual donations this season amounted to only $21,273.

“Most of our years, we’ve been really, really tracking it and setting the goals,” he said. “Either we’ve made the goal or exceeded it a little bit. So this year, so far, we’re lagging behind. I don’t want to give up on it yet, but I don’t know if we’re going to make it or not.”

A collaboration of all nine county Ruritan Clubs and other volunteers, the Empty Stocking Fund collects donations all year. Donations will determine the number of children they can accept into the program, said Secretary Janet Ballowe.

“We’re more than anxious to get donations this year. It’s been a little bit slower but hopefully we’re going to make it. We do this on faith,” she said.

The Front Royal Christmas gift collection will provide about 75 children with items from their wish lists, Wine said, including books, music, jewelry, makeup or art kits.

“Legos, everybody wants Legos,” she said. “Scooters, skateboards, I mean nice gifts. Every child is getting at least two gifts.”

Wine found good prices on items through Walt Disney’s “Frozen” brand and said Barbie dolls were marked as half off at Kohls.

“And then we got Kohls cash, so we got to go back and buy more toys,” she said. Applebees donated about 85 gift cards so children can eat free when their parents purchase meals at the restaurant, and Wine said she’ll probably purchase Wal-Mart gift cards to make up the difference on gifts she wasn’t able to find for area teens.

The collection grew in part from the police department’s Operation Blue Christmas of previous years, said Elks Lodge President Dennis Hemline.

Joining forces with the Front Royal Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, they used a $2,000 grant from the National Elks Foundation to buy toys, and other money collected to buy food.

“Let’s work together and see what we can do, so we’re not doing the same thing for the same people all the time,” he said.

Though the list of community participants is complete, Wine said the lodge is still accepting donations of money, gifts for children, warm weather clothing and nonperishable food items.

“Every little bit helps,” she said.

Weather forecasts are calling for a winter storm this weekend, but Wine said even if the lodge has to cancel the day’s events, families will still have gifts and food this Christmas.

“They’ll still get ’em, that’s for sure.”

Donate to the Ruritan Empty Stocking Fund at P.O. Box 411, Strasburg, VA 22657 or by calling 540-465-3452. Adopt a child through the Shenandoah Angels network at Shanholtz’s Gifts and Gallery, 5980 S. Main St., Mount Jackson, or by calling 549-333-7511. Donate to the Front Royal Christmas collection through the Front Royal Elks Lodge at 540-635-2330.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com