With the season of giving upon us, it’s time to sit down and reflect on all the things we’re thankful for. For many, it’s family and good friends. For others, good health or a successful career leaves one feeling grateful.
Thanksgiving is often the one time all year when people truly take the time to take stock of their lives and have a chance to reflect upon their blessings. The holiday is also a time for helping others in the community who may not be as fortunate. Read on to hear about how some organizations and people in Waukee are sharing their blessings with their neighbors during this holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!
A home for the holidays
For many of us, one of the most basic things we are thankful for is a roof over our heads. But for many in our community, a home of their own is something they long for. Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity has been building homes for people in the community for 25 years. This month, some Waukee members of St. Boniface parish will assist them in building those homes for deserving families.
Andy Schmitz is organizing this year’s effort. He got involved with Habitat through his involvement with the local Knights of Columbus. Once the leadership at St. Boniface heard about the Knights and their work days with Habitat, they wanted to open up the opportunity to volunteer to the wider St. Boniface community.
“Our Knights council was looking to do more in the community,” he says. “I’m a hands-on type of guy. There is always fundraising and generating money, and that’s important, but there’s something about going out and doing physical work that benefits others. You can really see what you’ve accomplished.”
Schmitz says a common misconception is that Habitat homes are given away; they’re not. Low-income families are able to apply to purchase a Habitat home. Families wanting to partner with Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity must meet the following criteria: They must currently be living in substandard or cost-burdened housing; they must be willing to volunteer 400 hours of “sweat equity;” and they must be able to repay an interest-free mortgage over 20 years. Habitat houses are affordable for low-income families because there is no profit included in the sale price, volunteer labor discounts the sale price, and no interest is charged on the mortgage.
Habitat now has a warehouse at its headquarters on East Euclid where they can construct pre-fabricated walls for Habitat homes. It allows them to get out of the elements and work quickly on getting homes built. Schmitz hopes that more than 30 St. Boniface members will donate a day of their time working an eight-hour shift helping them out in that endeavor.
Schmitz says sometimes volunteers will be working right along homeowners who are paying their “sweat equity.” He believes it really adds something to the experience of volunteering.
“It really puts an extra touch when you’re working with people who will make that house their home,” he says. “We all have our homes and know how important they are to us, and getting into their own home that they love and appreciate and can care for and raise a family in… that’s definitely for me.”
For those at St. Boniface, giving of yourself isn’t something that’s just done at Thanksgiving. It’s a year-round process. Schmitz says parish priest Fr. Vince is always preaching the message that those who much is given, much is expected, and simply going to church on Sunday isn’t enough.
“St. Boniface has grown, and we are in a position to help others. And Fr. Vince’s big thing is come to church, but you need to take that message out into the world, too,” he says. “If you just come to church and leave and do nothing with your gifts and talents, what good is that? Take those out into the world into everyday life in our neighborhoods and use them and help others.”
Share your feast
The Waukee Area Christian Food Pantry has been in operation since 2003, and one of its first projects was its annual Share Your Feast food drive.
The organization has determined that helping others is obviously important year-round, but it takes on special significance during Thanksgiving when the focus is on food and on family. When money is tight during the holidays, it can be hard to come up with the funds to provide a large Thanksgiving spread for family and friends, and the food pantry is there to alleviate that worry for local families in need.
“We’re not just providing food, but the caring part of it, too,” says director Melissa Stimple. “There’s something about getting together for a Thanksgiving meal, and it takes the burden away of having to pay for it, so people can concentrate on other necessities. Their grocery bill is one less thing to worry about over the holidays.”
The food pantry will be giving families a special Thanksgiving Feast food box and needs help to fill them up. Items needed include: boxed stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, relishes, ingredients for green bean casserole and pumpkin pie, saltine crackers, corn muffin mix, fruit and Jell-o. Cash donations will be used to provide each family a turkey or ham and grocery store gift card to purchase the perishable items to complete their meal.
Residents who wish to receive a food box can sign up with the food pantry. Applicants must live in the Waukee School District. No appointment is necessary. Stop by during office hours: (Monday 4-6 p.m. and Thursday 9-11 a.m.). Bring proof of residence (like a utility bill or apartment lease) and a photo ID. Services are confidential and private.
For those wishing to donate food items or make a cash donation, donations can be dropped off at Westview Church Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The church is located at 1155 S.E. Boone Drive, Waukee.
“This is a really stressful time for families,” Stimple says. “If we as a community can take a little bit of that stress off so that people can enjoy their families and enjoy that time together, that is great.”
A special Thanksgiving meal
Mickey’s Irish Pub in Waukee will be serving its second annual traditional Thanksgiving buffet lunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. free to those who want to spend the holiday with friendly company or for those who cannot afford a large meal for their families.
“It’s going to be very traditional with turkey, dressing, potatoes, vegetables, rolls and pies,” she says. “It’s free to basically anyone who can’t afford a large meal for their families or anyone who is alone for the holidays and wants some company. It’s so nice for us to be able to provide a space to do this for our community,” said owner Amy Walsh.
The idea came about when someone from the food pantry spoke at a Chamber of Commerce event. Walsh says she didn’t realize Waukee had a need for something like this in the community.
Last year, about 150 people attended, and they’re hoping for even more this year. For those who want to get involved and help out, they can donate food items like turkeys or desserts, or there is a need for people to help serve as well.
During the month of November, Mickey’s will also be accepting donations for the Waukee Food Panty. For every food or non-perishable item brought in or for every $5 donated, a Mickey’s Buck will be given out, which can be used for food purchases at Mickey’s. The proceeds at the end of the month will go directly to the food pantry to help fill their shelves.
“Waukee does have a great need for these services, and this was a way we could help out,” Walsh says. “A lot of single parents need a boost, and this was a way for us to help the community.”
Winter warmth drive
This year students in the Waukee Community School District will also be working hard to help others by ensuring that they have the clothing items they need for a cold, winter season. For the last several years, the district has held a winter warmth clothing drive, collecting new or gently used items like coats, hats, scarves, mittens and blankets for the homeless in the community.
Student body president and senior Sydni Rowen says she got involved when a local parent came and spoke about the need to the random acts of kindness club at the high school. He has been working with local homeless shelters for years, and he knew Waukee families could help.
“We want to raise awareness of what homeless people deal with,” says Rowen. “I’m fortunate that I don’t have to worry about being warm, but we know not everyone is so privileged. It’s so easy to help, and this a simple thing all students, even little ones, can do to help.”
“It’s so simple, but it is neat to see how fast things pile up,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to make a big difference.”