Holiday spirit shines bright in Grand Canyon community

Local volunteers Grace Conklin, Alberta Saveedra & Goldie Pounds volunteer during last year’s angel tree and community food basket program. Photo/ Carrie Putz.

Local volunteers Grace Conklin, Alberta Saveedra & Goldie Pounds volunteer during last year’s angel tree and community food basket program. Photo/ Carrie Putz.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Giving and receiving are the essence of true holiday spirit and are two qualities the local communities have no problem fulfilling. Each year the community comes together to distribution holiday food baskets and angel tree gifts.

A long-standing tradition for the Grand Canyon and surrounding towns, the community food basket and angel tree program reach out to those who might need a little extra help during the holidays. By supplying a food basket to families and Christmas presents to kids, the community is able to care for its own.

For the last year six years Carrie Putz, assistant store manager at the Grand Canyon General Store, spends time planning and coordinating the program.

Every year Putz is able to determine how many baskets andpresents are needed through sending letters to businesses and employers within Tusayan, Valle and the Grand Canyon. In turn they send lists with names of those who may be in need of food and/or gifts for their children.

"It's folks that work for them that they feel need a little more assistance," Putz said. "They create a list for me with ages and genders of the children and how many food baskets they will need."

Putz was uncertain how many gifts and baskets to plan for this year, due to the recent uncertainty of Xanterra's contract situation with the national park.

However, in the past between 85-90 food baskets are delivered along with around 100 angel gifts. This year Putz is planning around 100 food baskets and 150 gifts to be distributed.

"I thought it was going to be much bigger or much smaller," she said. "I think the need is greater this year, because of all the difficulty in the park right now. We didn't really know what to expect. From all the lists I've received this year, it's bigger."

Recipients in the Grand Canyon and Tusayan community will have their needs met as well as residents of Valle.

Helen West helps coordinator the program for the Valle area and said the need for food baskets is greater this year than angel tree gifts. She anticipates around 60 to 70 food baskets for Valle residents. Working with West, Putz is coordinating the lists and delivery for Valle.

"They're pretty grateful there. Helen has all of her people and the guys help us unload the trucks. They're very kind folks and they really appreciate it," Putz said.

West has volunteered with the program for three years. She said without the program to help, many families would go without for the holidays. For them, the program makes a big impact and the smiles on the kids' facers keeps her volunteering year after year.

"I love seeing their reaction," West said. "A lot of families would not have Christmas dinner and a lot of kids would be without presents without the program. I think it is very important."

With the exception of very large families, one food basket is offered per family. Items include holiday food as well as non-perishable items. Delaware North Company donates hams to be included in each basket.

"It's full of things you can use every day too," Putz said. "Flour, sugar, soups, cheeses jars of jam, peanut butter and of course the ham but things they can utilize throughout every day."

To pay for the baskets, donations of any sum are collected. Many contributions come from employers as well as the Grand Canyon Rotary, Grand Canyon Lions Club and Grand Canyon American Legion. Putz said word of mouth between organizations is an excellent way of raising community awareness.

"The clubs are all big contributors for monetary donations and then they pass it among their clubs to their folks, saying 'Hey there's angels on the tree,' or 'Go get an angel,'" Putz said.

Any monetary donations exceeding the need of the program are given to Pastor Patrick Dotson of Grand Canyon Community Church, to be used in the Christian community assistance fund.

"That way he can have money, because people go to him throughout the year for gas vouchers, food vouchers and store vouchers," Putz said.

These donations cover food cost. In addition to the food baskets, the angel gift tags are hung on Christmas trees and contain a child's name, age and gender. An 'angel' then purchases a gift for that child and brings the unwrapped gift and the tag back to the store. A specific dollar amount is not specified although Putz said on average most people spend around $20 dollars.

"It can be less than that, it can be more than that," Putz said. "All you do is sign (the angel) out, bring it back by a certain date, attach the angel to the gift, - don't wrap it - it's unwrapped and then we have a wrapping party."

After donations and the angel gifts are collected, the community comes together to fill the baskets, wrap gifts and make the deliveries.

Putz said the gift-wrapping and basket filling is a testament to the dedication in the community.

"All the Girl Scouts, the student council from the school and community members come in to volunteer their time at wrapping," Putz said. "I've got a lot of wrapping paper left over but when people come to the wrapping party I ask that they bring their own scissors and their own tape. That kind of makes it go a little quicker."

After the baskets are filled and the gifts are packaged, they are taken to drop off points and distributed families.

"Xanterra helps with this, general manager Jon Streit brings his box truck and he helps with delivery," Putz said. "Then our staff at the store and the Grand Canyon Community Church makes the rest of the deliveries."

Those donating angel gifts can drop them off at any of three locations: Grand Canyon General Store, Tusayan General Store and Desert View marketplace.

Gifts need to be returned to one of the three stores by Thursday, Dec. 11.

The gift-wrapping party takes place Saturday, Dec. 13 from 3 to 5p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the Grand Canyon Recreation Center.

The Grand Canyon General Store will fill food baskets on Wednesday Dec. 17, starting at 5 p.m.

The food baskets and angel tree gifts will be delivered Dec. 18.

"Anybody can volunteer their time." Putz said. "We have a pretty good system down now, so it goes pretty quickly."

If you'd like to donate, suggest a gift basket recipient, or volunteer, contact Carrie Putz at (928) 638-2262 or email cputz@dncinc.com.

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