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Collinsville’s giving heart on display during the holiday season

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Collinsville is not a wealthy community, but its residents continue to open their hearts and wallets to those less fortunate.

A Collinsville firefighters speaks with a young girl Dec. 10 as she checks out at Wal-Mart in Colllinsville / Photo by Roger Starkey

A Collinsville firefighters speaks with a young girl Dec. 10 as she checks out at Wal-Mart in Colllinsville / Photo by Roger Starkey

The generous spirit of the community is evident throughout the year, participating in fund raisers, contributing to the needy and responding to emergency situations, such as the displacement of a family by a house fire. The holiday season, however, is when Collinsville’s giving heart is truly on display.

Most of the holiday giving efforts is by local organizations and is the culmination of yearlong fund raising and planning. Some, however, are spontaneous displays of the giving spirit.

The Christmas Bears Giving Tree is a program that has benefited Collinsville Unit 10 kindergarten through sixth graders for years. Wal-Mart usually allows a tree to be placed in the Collinsville store. Patrons can choose a bear from the tree and shop for the child listed. Due to some logistical issues, Wal-Mart was initially not able to commit to the program in 2014.

Although Wal-Mart eventually offered to help, the school district, when notified that the store may not be able to participate, quickly rallied staff, students, community groups, residents and local businesses to fill the void. As word spread first through the schools, then the community, the movement took on a life of its own, Dorris Intermediate School Principal Kevin Stirnaman said.

“People were donating coats and clothes,” Stirnaman said. “Community members were bringing things into the schools.”

Lilypad Learning Center, the Evening Lions Club and KAHOKstrong, in addition to many residents and staff acting on their own, generously donated and made sure that every child form the Christmas Bears Giving Tree received needed items.

The Collinsville Sunrise Kiwanis, on the other hand, have been methodically planning their annual Christmas for kids event for more than 25 years, member Rick Rehg said. Sales of peanuts and oranges at Collinsville intersections each spring and fall, as well as proceeds from bagna cauda sales at the Italian Fest, brighten the Christmas of about 50 Collinsville Unit 10 children each year.

The group receives the names of needy children from the Unit 10 administration each year. The children, along with a parent or guardian, are taken to a store, where they are allowed to buy clothes worth from $100 to $150.

Collinsville police officers and firefighters accompany the families as they shop for clothes. Rehg said this helps build a positive relationship between police, firefighters and families that may have only dealt with the officers and firefighters in stressful situations.

After shopping for clothes, the group goes to Camelot Bowl, where Santa Claus pays a visit. Camelot Bowl owner Diane Hartman coordinates donations from members of leagues that bowl at her establishment through the sale of 50/50 tickets all year, Rehg said. The money is used to buy the toys Santa gives to the children during the Sunrise Kiwanis Christmas Party at the bowling alley. Imo’s Pizza provides about 10 pizzas for the party as the kids bowl.

The annual event began when member Virgil Kassing, who was a Unit 10 staff member, invited truant officer Millie Finan to speak to the group about needy kids in the district, Kiwanis member Rick Rehg said. Finan told the group of children who did not go to school because they were ashamed of their clothes.

Touched by Finan’s message, the Kiwanis took 10 kids the first year. At the strong urging of Kiwanis member Bud Weise, the program soon grew to 20 kids and served about 55 kids in 2014.

For Rehg, the effort has become a special part of his year.

“This is Christmas to me, it’s the most important part,” Rehg said.

The event has been an annual tradition for 17-year-old Collinsville High School student Alli Counton since she was in fifth grade. She began tagging along with her parents and comes back every year because it makes Christmas more special, Counton said. The children and family often cry tears of joy when they receive their clothing and gifts.

“It’s definitely better to give than to receive,” Counton said.

Counton’s friend and fellow CHS student Olivia Scaturro was with her Saturday helping a family shop. The pair are also members of the CHS Student Council, which collected about 585 toys for needy children this year. Some members of the Student Council also dress as elves each year and go to Kreitner Elementary School in State Park, bringing gifts for the students.

Among other Collinsville groups who devote much of their efforts to providing for needy children during the holiday are the Collinsville Junior Service Club and Collinsville Charities for Children. The Junior Service Club adopts families each year and ensures the children have toys and coats for Christmas, and the family food to eat. Collinsville Charities for Children gave shoes and socks to more than 265 Collinsville School District children on Dec. 10.

Some local charitable groups, like the Evening Lions Club, focus their giving efforts on a particular mission and do not have a major focus on the holiday season. The Lions mission, President Mark Bryant said, has four levels of priority; sight, sound, kids and senior citizens. The group was recently able to help the Maryville Christian School buy equipment needed to administer state required hearing and vision screening.

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