Zimmerman schools, community have come together for 25-plus years to provide for those who find themselves in a season of need

by Marj Hart

Contributing Writer

Zimmerman can be proud. For more than 25 years, neighbors have truly been helping neighbors.

How did it all start?

At first, it was an idea generated by the then-principal Marie Norman of Zimmerman Elementary. She wanted to help local families and instituted a collection drive for, at first, hats, boots and mittens. Within a few years it grew into a Christmas giving program for clothes and other needs. At that same time, the Zimmerman/Livonia Fire Department in conjunction with Zimmerman Off-Sale Liquors, were conducting a toy drive and shopping for toys.

When both groups determined that families were utilizing both programs, they were combined approximately 12 years ago.

Now, Ryan Maloney, the Zimmerman-Livonia fire chief, oversees the entire program along with help from three social workers from Zimmerman school — Jenny Manthey, Ginger Skille and Paul Gisselquist. Lacey Holland, a parent liaison for Westwood Elementary School, also helps. There are others, too.

Manthey said the “it is truly a school and community supported effort” which not only helps families in need but also brings the community together.

Manthey also said that “the intent of the organization is to provide families a temporary solution, but it is not meant to be an ongoing means of providing a family with holiday gifts”.

The Zimmerman/Livonia Fire Department carries the major responsibility. The department is responsible for handling the applications, collects toys at the fire station and other drop-off sites, and then shops for all of the toys.

How does this all work? If your family needs assistance, you can complete an application. It must be completed and turned in at the Zimmerman Fire Department drop box by Nov. 18. Families who qualify will be notified by letter. Information can be accessed at https://www.isd728.org/Page/3933. Who is eligible? Any family attending a Zimmerman school or living within the 55398 zip code. Because Elk River and Princeton also have their own programs, the Zimmerman Neighbors Helping Neighbors coordinates with them to ensure that all three programs serve families within their own community.

What if you would like to help? You can pick up an “angel” form at the Refuge church, Jim’s Market, Johnson’s Hardware Hank, Woodland Bank and the Zimmerman branch of The Bank of Elk River. The form lists the age, gender and four needs and one want of a child. You can then shop based on the child’s needs and want. The items can be placed in a bag with the “angel” form attached, and dropped off at the Refuge church (next to Zimmerman Middle/High School). Residents will also be able to leave toys at local toy drop locations.

When asked about the biggest issue or struggle for the program Manthey said “sometimes people apply too late, or at the very last day. Once the “angel” forms have been submitted, the firefighters and other fire department officials have to shop for all of the eligible children. If they get requests for 30 or more children on the last day, it can be difficult to get the shopping done in time.”

The deadlines for this year: “angel” forms should be submitted to the fire department by Nov. 18. Items will be available for pick-up during the week of Dec. 16 (a date and time will be provided to each family).

Manthey said the magnitude of this community effort could be easily overlooked, but not by those involved. She said so many contribute by shopping for items, collecting and distributing as well as making monetary donations.

If anyone would like to make a cash donation to the program, it can be done through an account at Woodlands Bank in Zimmerman. The account name is “Neighbors Helping Neighbors”. If anyone would like to make a toy/gift/wrapping paper donation, they could drop that off at any of the three Zimmerman schools or the Refuge church.

Any local business that wishes to hold a toy drive and provide a drop box may do so. The business can then make arrangements with the Zimmerman/Livonia Fire Department for pick up by Nov. 18.

Firefighters shop for items based on children’s lists, including those whose “angels” were not chosen. On the pick-up day, they assist the children with picking out their items, and then help the families to carry their items out to their vehicles. In past years, Nelson’s Nursery has also donated wreaths for each family.

Manthey said it is gratifying when they “get lots of letters saying that families wouldn’t have managed without the program. Also, some families who have received help in the past assist with the program, and now in turn help others to give back.”

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