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Christmas Club helps hundreds in Wright County

Tradition is 65 years in the making

December 14, 2008
By KAREN WELD, Messenger correspondent

CLARION - Every day can be just like Christmas in Wright County thanks to the Holmes Christmas Club that works throughout the year to help people in need.

This time of year the organization is busy organizing and distributing about 900 fruit baskets throughout the county.

It starts, as it has for the past 65 years, with an auction held the Monday before Thanksgiving to raise funds for the cause.

A dozen volunteer board members begin collecting items for the auction several weeks before the annual event. Businesses, clubs, organizations, families and individuals contribute items which are homemade, home baked, from their inventories or other items such as gift certificates. This year's auction outpaced last year's, in spite of a slowing economy, bringing in nearly $19,000.

Rich Reiland who heads the group said, "Because of the number of years the club has been in existence, things nearly run themselves. Another dozen people help us the night of the auction. We had nearly 200 businesses which donate items for the sale, not counting the individuals who generously give." The auction has been held for several years at Chappy's on Main on Clarion's South Main Street.

More than 100 bidders participated in the four-hour auction this year.

Delany Wanken, a senior at Clarion-Goldfied High School, made a queen-sized quilt to donate for this year's auction.

"I thought the quilt could be sold and the money could be used to help others in our community," she said. Instead, she got a big surprise.

The quilt sold for $400 and the buyer insisted the quilt be returned to Wanken.

Two weeks following the auction, three dozen volunteers returned to Chappy's to put together the 900 fruit baskets.

"We keep a permanent list of people who are senior citizens, in senior housing or care centers, widows or widowers," said Reiland. "Some are people who have experienced a change or crisis this year are added. We take referrals of someone who should be added to the list. We update it all the time."

Each basket includes a grapefruit, two bananas, two apples, two oranges, a big bunch of grapes and a bag of peanuts and candy. The items are tied up with a Christmas bow and note of greeting, in a plastic grocery bag for ease of delivery. Drivers begin the delivery process, dropping off multiple baskets at a care center or assisted living facility.

However, the fruit baskets are only a small portion of the gifts which the Holmes Christmas Club gives each year, using only a small percentage of the funds raised.

Reiland said 42 churches across Wright County will each receive $50 to "help make someone in their congregation have a merrier Christmas."

"We give every community money for their holiday cheer fund," he said. "In the early summer, we give money for swimming passes to the pools in the county for kids or families who might not be able to pay for passes otherwise. We give $4,000 for scholarships to graduates from the schools in the county." Others on the club's annual gift giving list include the Wright County Public Health Department programming and several community Easter egg hunts.

Dean Kluss, a board member for the past two years, said that if there is a need in Wright County, chances are Holmes Christmas Club will be asked to help. "I have enjoyed serving on this board," he said. "It's a great cause. We are happy to help people if we can." Money is given to pay down utility bills, aid someone making extra trips to medical destinations, or rent a hospital bed for a short period of time.

The Holmes Christmas Club, began in 1943 in the tiny town of Holmes located northwest of Clarion. Farmers Exchange, a supper club there, was the site of a half-dozen couples discussing how they could help a family that year. Betty Robinson, who was one of those trying to decide what to do, said, "The dad of the family had broken his leg. The couple had three little girls. We thought if people would donate something and we sold the items, we would have money to help them." Auction items were chickens, lambs,and other animals.

The auction items have changed over the 60 some years. So has the location. Farmers Exchange closed. That year there was no auction and no fruit baskets. Several people decided not to let a tradition die and picked up the ball and ran with it. The auction then moved to its present location, Chappy's on Main.

Reiland, who has been involved with Holmes Christmas Club for the past eight years said the work in a reward in itself.

"All I have to do is to deliver a fruit basket to one older lady," he said. "I get a hug from her and her heartfelt thanks, that is all I need to keep on doing it."

Contact Karen Weld at (515) 573-2141 or



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