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Holly Jolly Christmas Project comes to FD

Tree kits to be provided to families in need

-Submitted photo Katie Royster's garage currently looks like a holiday stockroom full of Christmas trees and ornament sets. Royster is spearheading the Holly Jolly Christmas Project and putting together Christmas tree kits for local families in need.

‘Tis the season for giving and Katie Royster and her family always look for ways to make the holidays bright and help their neighbors in need.

“Our family wants to do something and we always hear about Bikes for Tykes on the radio and the Giving Tree gifts and things like that,” she said.

But a connection with an old friend and Fort Dodge native, Angie (Heddinger) Slaughter, gave Royster a new idea on how to help.

“Angie noticed a lot of people didn’t have [Christmas] trees,” Royster said. “So it’s like, we have all these presents, but where are we going to put them?”

Slaughter started the Holly Jolly Christmas Project three years ago in Omaha, where she now lives. The project provides Christmas tree kits to families in need. Each kit includes a pre-lit Christmas tree, set of ornaments, ornament hooks and a tree topper.

In the program’s first two years, 180 Christmas tree kits were delivered to elementary school students in the Omaha metro area.

After learning about the Omaha program, Royster collaborated with Slaughter to bring the Holly Jolly Christmas Project to Fort Dodge this year.

Royster works for the Fort Dodge Community School District and worked with the district to send out a survey to all elementary school families to ask if they had a need for a holiday tree. From that survey, there were 42 families signed up, Royster said.

“We had an optional spot where they could write why they felt like they were in a hardship or needed a tree and some of the stories were just horrible when you read them,” she said. “It just makes me feel very privileged to have had a Christmas tree my whole life.”

Royster also worked with St. Paul Lutheran School and St. Edmond Catholic School to identify a few of their families in need. In all, there are about 52 families signed up to receive the Christmas tree kits.

Over the last month, Royster has collected donations — both monetary and materials — for the kits and currently has enough supplies to make 60 Christmas tree kits. A GoFundMe was created for the project and it raised $2,320.

Donations will close on Friday and families will be able to pick out and pick up their Christmas tree kits this weekend at Duncombe Elementary School.

“They’re going to kind of ‘shop’ so they get to pick out what tree they want,” Royster said.

With any leftover kits, Royster plans to check with the schools to see if any families were overlooked and reach out to local daycare centers to see if they have families in need.

“We’re just trying to get as many of [the kits] out the door as possible,” she said.

Whatever’s left after that will be packed up and put away for 2024.

“I definitely think it’s going to be something we do again next year,” Royster said.

Because the trees are all artificial, the families who receive them can also pack them away at the end of the season to bring back out next Christmas.

To donate to the project, visit https://gofund.me/4666919b. For more information and updates, follow the group “The Holly Jolly Christmas Tree Project Fort Dodge Edition” on Facebook.

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