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Church organizations unite to provide Christmas for those in need

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Christmas Baskets Project. | Courtesy Roger Mayes

IDAHO FALLS – Hundreds of children and families in the community will have a Merry Christmas thanks to Catholics and Protestants joining forces.

St. Vincent De Paul and the First Presbyterian Church teamed up for the Christmas Basket Project years ago to provide gifts and food for local children and families in need. This year the project got underway in November. Volunteers provided 253 families with boxes of food Saturday during the event’s “distribution day,” and more than 770 kids will have presents to unwrap Christmas morning.

“There’s no distinction between Catholics and Protestants in this project,” Presbyterian church member and volunteer Roger Mayes said. “There are needy families and hungry kids and kids that, without our help, would not have much of a Christmas, so this is really part of the Christmas spirit.”

Applicants must meet certain residency and income criteria to be considered for the giveaway.

Tags are made with the age and gender of each child and suggested gifts. Red and green tags are put on Christmas trees in churches and businesses in town. Individuals can take tags, purchase the gifts and drop them off unwrapped for volunteers to then assemble everything together.

“There’s a set of volunteers that work at each of these stages,” Mayes said.

The volunteers come from a handful of different churches. Joann Cissel is 90 years old and a member of the Presbyterian church. She makes hats for the project every year, and this year she made over 300 as part of her contribution.

“We all owe everybody something,” Cissel said. “People have been good to me and it’s just one way I can say thank you.”

Courtesy Roger Mayes

Some of the food was donated, but the church purchased about $15,000 worth of food. Families will receive a number of different items like a turkey, eggs, margarine, bread and canned goods.

“Our hope is that we give them enough food for Christmas dinner and maybe a week afterwards,” Mayes said. “It’s hard to gauge that but that’s our goal.”

St. Vincent de Paul member and volunteer Peggy Sharp is a former teacher who believes in helping children. She witnessed first-hand what it’s like for kids who don’t have much of anything sit next to a classmate who does.

She believes the project is a reminder that the holidays aren’t the easiest of times for individuals and families.

“It’s pulling the community together and building an awareness that there are a lot of people in our community who sometimes need help,” Sharp said. “If we can just give them a little something extra at Christmas, that makes their Christmas a little better,” Sharp said.

Courtesy Roger Mayes

Some bikes are purchased new, but many of the bikes are donated to Bill’s Bike and Run shop where they are refurbished and delivered for the project at no cost. | Courtesy Roger Mayes