The Spirit of Christmas exemplified in program in Alden

Published 9:22 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2023

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By Kim Gooden, For the Tribune

‘Tis the season of giving, and the Spirit of Christmas in Alden is definitely doing just that.

Eighteen families with a total of 50 children between them will have a merrier Christmas thanks to the organizers and volunteers of the Spirit of Christmas program, who are providing gifts to them.

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“Each child will receive pajamas, socks, a shirt, a sweatshirt, a toy or a gift card depending on their age, a quilt and personal care products,” said Janet Bremseth, one of the organizers.

“And each family will receive a grocery gift card and a game for the family,” said Sheri Opseth, also an organizer.

The Alden-Conger FFA chapter will donate any extra fruit, meat and cheese from their fruit sales to the program and one anonymous donor purchased three boxes of fruit from the FFA and donated it to the Spirit of Christmas for distribution to the families.

Other organizations within the Alden-Conger School also donated to the program.

“The Student Council held a coin drive, the National Honor Society shopped for and donated the personal care items, the Youth Advisory Committee shopped for one family, and members of the staff were given the opportunity to wear jeans every Wednesday in November and December for a $40 donation,” said Bremseth.

Opseth also noted that area churches donate the quilts that are given to the children.

The Spirit of Christmas program began over 30 years ago when Mary Grasdalen, a teacher at the Alden-Conger School at that time, heard about a family with no money to buy presents for their children.

“Mary and her husband, Loren, took up a collection from the staff to give that family a Christmas,” Opseth explained. “And it grew from there.”

“They helped people in a lot of ways, not just with clothes and toys,” Bremseth noted. “One time they got a stove for a family who needed one and another time they gave blankets to a family that was using curtains for blankets.”

“That is how Mary became known as Mary Angel,” Opseth recalled.

For many years it was just the Grasdalens who organized and carried out the work of Spirit of Christmas, but eventually they brought in Bremseth and Opseth and mentored them in how to carry on the program.

“There are many times when we ask ourselves ‘What would Mary do?’ when faced with decisions that must be made,” Opseth said. “And the answer is always ‘whatever is best for the kids’.”

Both Bremseth and Opseth are quick to point out that they are only the contact people and organizers.

“It works for us to be the contact people because we both work in the offices at the school as well as live in the community,” Bremseth said.

“But there are many people involved in this program,” Opseth noted. “Several people shop, others help organize the gifts, many donate money to cover the costs of the gifts, and people sew the quilts.”

Volunteers who want to shop for a family are given the gender, age, size and gift ideas for each child. Once the shopping is done, the gifts are turned in and added to the other items that have been donated.

Spirit of Christmas help is available for families with infants and children through twelfth grade who attend Alden-Conger School. The only request the program has is that families only ask for help from one agency.

Notices are sent out in the fall via the school newsletter, The Alden Adance, a link on the school website, JMC alerts (a message link for parents of students at Alden-Conger), and church bulletins and newsletters. Applications for Spirit of Christmas assistance are due before Thanksgiving so shoppers can shop for Black Friday deals. Then the gifts are picked up by the parents about 10 days before Christmas.

Bremseth and Opseth can’t say enough about the fantastic community support and very generous donations the Spirit of Christmas program has received.

“This program was so important to Mary and Loren and we have received memorials in their names,” Opseth said.

Both Grasdalens have passed away but their legacy continues to bring joy to many families at Christmas.