The holiday spirit is alive with Bonners Ferry organizations presenting opportunities to give
By Taylor Shillam
Holiday cheer is spread across Bonners Ferry every year thanks to community members dedicated to making a difference. The season of giving has inspired creativity and generosity within many locals, including a few organizations who have turned recognized needs into community-wide opportunities for giving each year.
Programs including Care-N-Share, the Christmas Tree of Joy and BoCo Backpacks' Christmas Ornament Sale have made a difference in the lives of countless local children and families over the years.
Care-N-Share began over 40 years ago. A local contest was searching for somewhere to place a surplus donation of toys.
“I was working at the Panhandle Health Clinic at the time as the WIC coordinator and was approached to see if I could use these gifts,” shared program founder Linda Lederhos. Without a clear choice of where to leave the donations, Lederhos assessed her own list of clients to find a new home for the toys. The following year, she was approached by local moms wondering about opportunities for donated holiday gifts.
This time, without the local contest to draw toy donations from, she asked friends within her own circle for used and new toy donations. There, Care-N-Share was born, and it is now a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization.
“Our main program is to provide gifts to the needy children of Bonners Ferry at Christmas time,” Lederhos shared. “We provide a need and wish list for parents to fill out, and we try to fill these requests.” Through the Care-N-Share program, each child is provided with a new outfit and gifts, depending on their specific needs.
Donations provided by the community have been a driving force behind the program. Those groups include the Bonners Ferry Rotary, Forest Service employees, Valley View Kids, 9B Quilters, Border Patrol and Customs, and many local individuals.
“We have so many groups and individuals that help by donating items and money, and without them the program could not continue,” Lederhos shared.
Now, donations to Care-N-Share can be dropped off in town at Wells Fargo Bank, Mountain West Bank or E.L. Internet Northwest. All donations remain within the community and will be delivered in December. Those interested in sponsoring a Bonners Ferry child through Care-N-Share this season can pick up a tag at Mountain West Bank, or contact Lederhos directly at 208.290.1483.
Those looking to add an ornament to their collection this year can do so through BoCo Backpacks, whose annual Christmas Ornament Sale supports the awareness of childhood hunger.
BoCo Backpacks is a volunteer-run supplemental food program for school-age children. It is a nonprofit organization sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church. They use every dollar donated to purchase food to be distributed to local schools each week.
“BoCo Backpacks is a diverse group with volunteers from all parts of Boundary County,” described organization chair Shirley Anderson. Their Christmas Ornament Sale began in 2016, when Boundary Community Hospital staff member Lauren Kuczka proposed a partnership to raise awareness about childhood hunger.
“Lauren proposed we supply ornaments for the Christmas Giving Tree, located at the time in the Outpatient Services lobby of the hospital,” Anderson said. Enlisting the help of local fifth-grade students at Naples, Mt. Hall and Valley View schools, BoCo had the ornaments created and introduced them at the American Legion Craft Sale that December. They decorated the hospital’s Giving Tree and donated all funds from ornament sales to provide healthy food to children across Boundary County.
Look for this year's ornaments, for sale by donation through BoCo Backpacks. New this year will be ornaments decorated by the Boundary County Middle School advanced art classes, in addition to those contributed by county fifth graders.
Bonners Ferry locals can also spread holiday cheer through a selection of giving tree programs in the local area. The Christmas Tree of Joy was created by Joy Schmitz of E.T. Wireless, located in downtown Bonners Ferry, in collaboration with the Community Action Partnership.
For over seven years, the Christmas Tree of Joy has held space in the store through the holiday season. It is filled with tags listing gifts desired by local children in need. Visitors to the store can choose a tag and fulfill those Christmas wishes by purchasing and wrapping a gift. When the wrapped gifts are returned to E.T. Wireless, Schmitz then ensures they are delivered for Christmas.
The Christmas Tree of Joy program has brought joy to a long list of children in its years of operation. For more information, visit E.T. Wireless during regular business hours or contact them on Facebook.
For the communities across Bonner and Boundary counties, the Selkirk Association of REALTORS’ Community Service Committee has launched the 2021 Giving Tree project they have described as “a local tradition of providing a very special holiday season for children and families in our community who may not otherwise receive holiday gifts.”
In partnership with children’s advocacy organizations including local Head Start organizations and Transitions in Progress (TIPS), and with help from the community, the association’s Giving Tree program originated over 20 years ago to fulfill the needs and wishes of children and families at Christmas. Families are all income verified through local organizations.
Trees and tags are expected to be delivered to various locations across Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint by the first week of November. Full details can be found on the SAR’s Facebook page.
“It is only through the generosity of businesses, families and individuals in our communities that we can make this happen,” SAR shared. “To the community, we say thank you for your support and goodwill!”
That community support and goodwill can mean the world to a child in need this holiday season. Whether it's a donation, an ornament purchase or a tag picked from a tree, every effort to give this season is sure to make a lasting impact in the life of a local family.