Blenker Companies, Inc. provides a Holiday Basket to a needy Portage County family every year.

Blenker Companies, Inc. Spreads Holiday Cheer for Portage County Family

  |   News

For over a decade, Blenker Companies, Inc. brightens the holiday season for one family in Portage County who is in need of assistance, as a part of Operation Bootstrap’s Holiday Baskets Project.

Operation Bootstrap, a food pantry in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, helps runs the Holiday Baskets Project, which matches up low-income households in Portage County with sponsors who provide them with baskets.

According to Mitzi Hlavac, one of the program’s coordinators, the Holiday Basket Project gave out 1,186 baskets last year.

Recipients of the baskets are often struggling because they have no income due to a lost job, sickness, disability, lack of skill, are on a fixed income, or are living paycheck to paycheck.

In order to become a recipient, they must submit a form and meet the income guidelines.

Jessica Anunson, a project management clerk for Blenker Companies, Inc. said the items that these people receive are designed to make their holidays brighter and warmer.

“Many families struggle with eating healthy or having enough food,” Anunson said. “They may be asked to bring something to a holiday function with their family and cannot afford to do so. The holiday basket may provide that item they need to bring and save them the embarrassment or the stress of wondering where they are going to come up with an extra $10 to purchase it.”

Essential items for these holiday meals include canned and boxed food items. Monetary gifts are also encouraged to purchase meat, eggs and milk.

Necessities for everyday health and grooming include toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo and conditioner as well as toothpaste and toothbrushes.

As well as outdoor items that make the holiday season warmer including hats, mittens, gloves, socks, boots and blankets.

And according to Anunson, pivotal items that make Christmas Day brighter including treats for children’s stockings and toys for each child.

“Holidays are stressful, not only parents living paycheck to paycheck; wondering how they’re going to afford to buy their children a present or two and put food on the table, but also on those same children who have this hope in Santa; that he will bring them their holiday wishes only to receive a small gift,” Anunson said.

Anunson said when the community donates to the Holiday Baskets Project, they are making children feel like equals.

“These same children go to school and see and hear how Santa brought little Jimmy that brand-new gaming system and they wonder why Santa didn’t bring them the toy they asked for as it was only a doll or a toy car,” Anunson said.

Anunson said each year, employees at Blenker Companies, Inc. bring in various food items, toys, household items and monetary donations to purchase for each basket, which helps make these recipients lives brighter.

Employees also hold a $5 hot lunch and a bake sale, where they can purchase donated baked goods during their break time or lunch.

Monetary donations for the Holiday Baskets Project can be given at any time but according to Anunson, the best time to donate is after her employer receives their sponsored family assignment from Operation Bootstrap.

“Our goal is always to provide enough gifts and food for a family of four,” Anunson said. “If we have enough, we will call Operation Bootstrap and possibly adopt another small family.”

Anunson said she has been providing a needy family with holiday baskets ever since she began at Blenker Companies, Inc. seven years ago and she chooses to do so, because of her own experience of receiving a basket.

“I know what it is like to be a recipient of food baskets at holiday time and while receiving those gifts is humbling, I’m thankful that I’ve had them,” Anunson said. “The smiles on my children’s faces as they opened their presents they wouldn’t have otherwise had and being able to share a nice meal without wondering what bill I was going to skip paying that month took just enough stress out of my day to let me enjoy the holiday.”

Pamela Jewell, an owner at Blenker Companies, Inc. said what motivated her business to contribute to the Holiday Baskets Project was discovering one of her employees was a recipient in the past and wanting a way for every one to give back to their community.

“When I remember what it was like when we had so little at Christmas, it makes me want to ‘pay it forward’ to someone who is in that same spot,” Jewell said. “To let them know that there are people who care how they are doing and want to make someone’s life at least momentarily better. I still remember those who helped me along life’s journey and thank them in my heart often.”

Donna Marx, a coordinator for the Holiday Baskets Project, said what is most gratifying is the feedback she gets and learning the impact it makes upon an individual’s life or a family.

“A sponsor will say, ‘It was such a wonderful experience to help,’” Marx said. “Not everyone has everything they need in life. It benefits everyone who becomes a part of it.”

According to Marx, there are various ways individuals can volunteer and/or sponsor and become a part of the annual Holiday Baskets Project.

Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, has a volunteer “wrap night” that gets toys and food wrapped December 13. Interested volunteers can call 715-344-1544 and get sent an application form.

To sponsor a family, organizers said individual, churches, or business can reach out to the Holiday Baskets Project at 715-344-9950 and get application materials. Sponsors are encouraged to submit their application between Oct. 10 and Dec. 10. Sponsors will then be mailed all the information they need to donate a basket for a family or an individual in need.