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Making Christmas merry

More than 300 volunteers, countless donors to OCEF have helped make Christmas happen for 220 families, 885 individuals.

December 16, 2009 - Brandon Twp.- Rumor has it that elves work at the North Pole. What is not as widely known is that Santa has his own helpers right here. Janet Kurnat is one of many.

Kurnat, a Groveland Township resident and retired Brandon school teacher, hates shopping. Despite her loathing of the task, she was out shopping in the mad pre-Christmas rush last weekend. She went to Kmart, Wal-Mart, and Meijer. She wasn't shopping for herself or anyone she personally knows. All she knew was that she needed gifts for 9- and 10-year-old girls and 11- and 12-year-old boys. Kurnat is a designated toy shopper for the Ortonville Community Emergency Fund, which provides gifts for needy children in the Brandon School District.

"I despise shopping, but I do it because food feeds a child's stomach and toys feed their hearts," explains Kurnat. "When kids go to school and their friends say, 'What did you get for Christmas?' they need to be able to say they got something. Big kids will lie, but little kids won't, and I don't want them to say they didn't get anything. That's why the toy store is where my heart lies."

Since Thanksgiving, roughly 328 volunteers and countless donors to the Ortonville Community Emergency Fund have helped make Christmas happen for 220 families, consisting of 885 individuals. Last Saturday, the OCEF toy store was open, filled with 1,050 donated toys, books, board games and more. Parents who are struggling to make ends meet were able to select gifts for their children. In total, 226 children will benefit from the generosity of a community that wants to make sure every child has gifts at Christmas. On Monday, OCEF had the Christmas food and gift distribution for families in need. Dozens of bags sat on chairs in the sanctuary of St. Anne Church, filled with gifts ranging from sweatsuits and coats to pots and pans, dvds, bath sets and gift cards. Hundreds of grocery bags loaded with food crowded the hallways. Outside the church, clients waited in line to receive the more than 12,000 food items and approximately 1,800 gift items donated by others in the community. Requests for assistance this year increased by about 10 to 15 families, said OCEF Food Pantry Coordinator Judy Henley, but once again, despite a tough economy, the community stepped up to meet the need. "I wish things would get better so people didn't need the help, they don't like asking," Henley said. "I wish there wasn't a need and everyone had a job. There is no way any of this would have happened without everyone in the community working together."

Without OCEF's help, Shelley White, a 4-months pregnant divorced mother of three children ages 20, 16, and 10, who has been out of work since November 2008, said her family would not have a Christmas with presents. "My children will be smiling with a little snow, some gifts and a great dinner that we are appreciative for," said White. "It means the world to have OCEF." The township resident and her family have received help from OCEF for many years as she struggled with alcoholism and personal support from Henley, White said, helped her overcome her addiction. She will celebrate one year of sobriety on Jan. 5.

On Monday, she was at the OCEF distribution not only as a client, but as a volunteer. She has been volunteering for nearly a year, cleaning, helping with distributions, and sorting items. "Unless I win a million, this is the only way I can give back," White said. "It feels wonderful to give something back. It's just a little, but it's something. OCEF is here to help, no matter what the situation, they've always been here for me."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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