By Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (December 19, 2021) – For many families, the holiday season means days of celebrations, lavish gifts, and feasts. For other families, financial restraints can make this season a painful time when celebrations are limited, gifts aren’t possible, and food is scarce. Lansing Professional Firefighters Association Local #3709, the Village’s firefighter union, knows from going out on calls that there are kids in Lansing that won’t have the same Christmas as some of their peers.
A new partner in giving
Lansing Professional Firefighters Association 3709 (LPFFA) has donated funds in recent years and shopped for clothes and other needed items for children in Lansing. This year, the Lansing Lions Club got involved, too, matching the firefighter union’s funds and wrapping gifts. LPFFA typically spends $2,500 on 10 children. This year, with the partnership of the two groups, they were able to spend $5,000 on 19 children.
The union’s share of the money comes from fundraising efforts throughout the year, primarily through their $500 a day raffle that was held in November. The raffle was introduced last year when the group wasn’t able to hold its annual in-person fundraising event due to COVID. Raffle tickets were sold for $50 with a maximum of 500 sold and a winner was drawn every day during the month of November to receive a $500 prize.
“This is primarily the fire department’s operation, but I was talking to some of my fire department buddies and they were helping two kids per school and we thought maybe the Lions could pitch in so they could help four kids per school,” said Mike Winters, secretary of the Lansing Lions Club and a retired Lansing firefighter. “So, the Lansing Fire Department and Lansing Lions Club are doing a joint venture and doubling the amount of kids served. The firefighters will deliver everything to the school to get it to the appropriate kids and they’ll be wrapped so that they can be presented from the parents rather than it coming from the fire department or Lions.”
The Lions raised their part of the money through fundraising efforts — the two largest being an annual golf outing and an annual Cadillac Raffle that takes place each year in November.
“Those are our two main fundraisers and all the money goes back into community
projects like this,” Winters said. “For anyone who is in a volunteer group or civic organization or church group, you know that it is hard to find volunteers these days. So it made sense to pool our resources so we could do more good.”
Gifting the necessities
“We started years ago providing Thanksgiving dinners and then moved to going to the schools and finding kids we could help,” said Tony Minkalis, president of LPFFA 3709.
He and union member Aaron Jadernak started the project in recent years. They decided the goal would not be to provide toys, as many other charities do, but to provide necessities, like socks and warm coats.
“We get information from principals and school counselors. We cover all the public schools — all in District 158 and Nathan Hale in District 171. The information provided includes the gender of the child, the sizes and any particular needs the child has. The counselors generally talk to the family and we get a list. We’ll get notes where a parent might state that the chid needs bed sheets or a winter coat,” said Minkalis. ”We definitely put an emphasis on clothes. We get sizes and will know what they need. And just in case they don’t fit, we provide a gift receipt.”
Not only was there a larger amount spent this year, but there has been increased involvement in the project this year, Minakalis said, as this year was the the biggest turnout from among the union members in shopping for gifts.
Manned with a list of sizes, Minakalis, Jadernak, Chief Steward of LPFFA 370 Kyle Hasselbring, Secretary/Treasurer Trevor Banske, and Firefighter Paul Steinweg split up and went on a shopping spree, filling carts with pants, shirts, coats, underwear, gloves, hats, coats and shoes. Once store managers learned why they were there, they were more than eager to help select items and let them in on special discounts that would stretch their money further.
“Being able to fulfill Christmas wishes for these children is very humbling. It reminds us what the holiday season is about,” said Banske. “By partnering with the Lions Club this year, we are able to fulfill twice as many wishes than in years past.”
Wrapping it up
Lansing Lions Club members and Lansing Fire Department personnel joined forces last weekend at St. John Church to wrap all the gifts that had been bought. Among those wrapping was former Lansing Mayor Norm Abbott.
“A part of our organization is that we help in the community. We’re here to help the fire department get gifts wrapped for these kids,” said Abbott. “It’s an honor and a privilege to do so.”
Winters said the hardest part of the wrapping activity was keeping everything straight and keeping it separated. They tried to wrap each item individually to give kids more items to open on Christmas.
The Lansing Lions Club is always looking for new members who would like to be involved in their community. For more information on membership, call 708-418-0736.
“We’re open to anyone who wants to help,” Winters said.