Local nonprofits find creative ways to help Isabella County residents in need with annual traditions

Non-profit organizations throughout Mt. Pleasant have been busy getting ready for the 2022 holiday season. Organizations such as the Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club and Christmas Outreach are focusing on ways they can creatively help those in need around the community with their annual holiday traditions.

The Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club

The Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club has an annual holiday gift box program – also called the “Heart of Michigan Paul Siers Legacy Gift Boxes,” in memory of Rotarian Paul Siers who originated the program and passed away last year due to cancer. 

“He was the driving force behind making this program happen each year and it has grown year after year,” says club president, Jenny Hoyle. “It's just been such a wonderful thing to be able to support the small business owners and it really truly was a labor of love for him. He was very passionate about it.”

The annual fundraiser supports organizations and groups that the Rotary contributes to financially, while also helping the local small businesses they purchase from to fill the gift boxes. This year, the Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club holiday gift boxes are filled with products from about six or seven small local businesses. 

(Photo courtesy of mprotary.com)The Rotary Club packed the gift boxes over Thanksgiving weekend and distributed them in early December. The boxes are available online until the end of the holiday season for people to purchase.

“It helps benefit Mt. Pleasant because it allows us to issue some local grants to help nonprofits with their key initiatives,” says Hoyle. “It also allows us to apply for matching district grant funds from the wider district that benefits the Mt. Pleasant area and programs that we are involved with as a Rotary club.”

The Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club was able to give back about $35,000 to the community in their last fiscal year, according to Hoyle. The holiday gift box program contributed to that figure.

“I really love that we are supporting the local artisans,” continues Hoyle. “It's been a hard time to be a small business owner or to run a small business, and sometimes those are the heart of our community. So, I love that we can do good while we're raising funds and we can help contribute back to the community that way too and I do think that's so meaningful.”

“I really love going to pack the boxes and I enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie with the other Rotarians. It’s kind of fun and gets you in the giving holiday spirit.”

Christmas Outreach

Around 45 years ago, Immanuel Lutheran Church decided they wanted to give back to the community during the holiday season, according to Peggy Burke, the Christmas Outreach president. They collected donations of gently used items and gave them away to those who needed them.

The Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation provides snow pants to children in Isabella County. (Photo courtesy of MPACF)The annual Christmas Outreach has continued year after year, providing families and individuals from Isabella County with a variety of used and new items. These items are provided by individual item donations, community partnerships, and purchases made from Christmas Outreach based on financial donations. 

“The miracle in doing this is that the whole community is involved in Christmas Outreach,” says Burke. “All of them donate to help us make this possible and that's great. We send out a letter requesting donations to the community and we have a phenomenal response to that.”

Donations include winter necessities such as coats, boots and snow pants. Household needs of toilet paper, hand soap and lotion are also high on the list. 

But the wish list doesn’t stop there. Christmas Outreach gathers books, toys, Christmas decorations and additional items they discover are in need throughout the community. 

One example is that Christmas Outreach discovered a need for blankets and linens, so they partnered with quilters from the Isabella County Commission on Aging. These quilters donate between 75 and 100 blankets that they work on creating throughout the year, according to Burke. 

Another partner is Mid-Michigan Woodworkers who create small toys as stocking stuffers.

About 500 households and about 1,500 individuals are served by Christmas Outreach on average. This year, there are about 550 families registered to receive this generosity at the annual event held Dec. 12, 13 and 14 at Campus Life (1200 W. High St.).

“I love it. Before we open the doors for everybody to come, I look around at all the amazing people there that have helped put it all together,” says Burke. “I truly believe that we have to help our neighbors out. Christmas Outreach exemplifies what is great about Mt. Pleasant. It is a community that takes care of each other. We care about everyone.”
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Read more articles by Addy Wachter.

Addy Wachter is a Grand Haven resident who is currently a student at Central Michigan University. She plans to graduate during the summer of 2023 with a major in photojournalism and a minor in cultural and global studies. Along with working with Epicenter, she is a photographer and writer at Central Michigan Life newspaper who enjoys traveling and exploring new places in her spare time, always taking her camera with her wherever she goes.