The spirt of charity has begun its seasonal saturation in Cottage Grove as organizations, businesses and community members ramp up their volunteer recruitment and find ways to give back to the community.
This holiday season will see a new option for Grovers to contribute to area youths as well.
Starting this week, Grocery Outlet is launching for the first time its “Youth Warming Project,” a donation program targeting at-risk youth in the community.
Through Nov. 30, the grocery store is partnering with Cottage Grove’s Looking Glass Rural Program to provide much-needed items to youth in need.
The nonprofit Looking Glass program assists homeless youth from 11 to 21 years of age and helps them create long-term solutions to improve the quality of their lives.
To participate in the project, Grocery Outlet customers can find “Item in Need” tags throughout the store on clothing, hygiene and non-perishable food items. Customers can select these items, bring them through checkout and distribute them into a barrel by a front register.
Grocery Outlet Co-owner Kori Sowa said that they will try to keep the items well-stocked.
“The inventory, as it sells, if we can’t get those same items in, there will be new items,” she said. “So, [customers] just need to always look for the tags, because the items they need will always have a tag in front of them.”
The store has tagged items that are always in demand but are relatively scarce in the hands of homeless youth.
“For example, a pair of socks will only last a week if the teen is working and two weeks if they are just going to school,” said the business on its social media page. “A washer and dryer are just not always available. Warm clothes are a must as well as hygiene items. Also, non-perishable food items are always important, but have to be items that can be cooked in a toaster oven or on a hot plate.”
The owners ask that donations are restricted to the tagged items in the store and that no used donations are made.
Sowa said Payne West Insurance has already donated $20 toward item purchases based on a simple chat.
“This is so important because our teens are our future,” said Sowa of the project. “If they don’t have the help and we’re able to provide that, why not help these teens get what they need to stay warm and fed and to be successful? There’s no way I could go to school and function if I’m freezing and I’m hungry. So, those are two things that they shouldn’t have to worry about. And if we can provide that for them, why not?”
The Grocery Outlet owners hope to make the Youth Warming Project an annual event and are encouraging the community to participate in order to make it a sustainable success.
The Youth Warming Project has its roots in a friendly money-raising challenge during the “Halloween Hootinanny” in October in which community member Karen Munsell and owners of Grocery Outlet and Oregon Metal Roofing and Gutters spontaneously began committing dollars toward Munsell’s project of buying socks for at-risk youth.
Munsell was tasked with finding $100 in donations during the event. If she could find it, Grocery Outlet would match her.
“She got it done in 30 minutes,” said Sowa.
And she got more than was anticipated.
Between Grocery Outlet, Oregon Metal Roofing and Gutters, and Munsell’s appeals to Rotarian members at the Halloween event, $350 were raised in total.
The next week, Looking Glass got a surprise donation of socks.
The incoming Program Supervisor of the Cottage Grove Looking Glass Rural Program Johnny Green stressed how impactful an item as simple as socks can be.
“Something important about socks is that they’re the number one most requested item in the homeless services sector,” said Green. “And there’s nothing more influential on a person’s life than taking wet, cold socks off and putting nice, warm socks on. That’s a feeling like home. And that’s something that’s almost a priceless gift that we can give to someone.”
The need for these fundamental items, Green said, is ever-present.
“It’s high. Very high,” said Green. “If we could go through a pair a day per person, we would. Because these socks are used not the way that you and me wear socks. We wear them for a couple hours, we get home, we take them off, we throw them in the wash. They’re wearing them 24/7 in shoes that a lot of times are worn all the way out so the socks are getting dirty. They’re being constantly used. They don’t get taken off and they can, in some cases, even be fungally infested.”
Munsell said she is also working to purchase other warming items to be donated to other places with youth in need such as the McKinney-Vento program and Al Kennedy High School.
Other groups in town have gotten into the spirit of the season as well.
Recently, Rural Organizing Project (ROP), Tree of Joy, Cottage Grove Mutual Aid, and Be Your Best announced “barrier-free” holiday programs for this year, meaning each of the programs do not require any documentation to qualify.
“Individuals and families only need to fall below a certain income threshold, but no proof is required,” said ROP Pantry Manager Emily Ruth.
ROP gained official food pantry status in February this year.
Holiday groceries will be available at the ROP office at 632 E Main Street during its regular pantry hours (Tuesday from 11 a.m. — 1 p.m. and Thursday from 4 — 6 p.m.) starting in early December, and by individual appointment from Tuesday, Dec. 21 through Thursday, Dec. 23 from 10 a.m. — 8 p.m.
Holiday grocery offerings include all of the festive meal fixings for traditional Anglo and Latino meals, including chicken, broth, potatoes, onions, stuffing, cranberry sauce, celery, butter and cooking oil, rice, masa, banana leaves, and much more.
Additionally, Tree of Joy will provide gifts for children ages 18 and younger who live in Cottage Grove. Gifts will be available to be picked up Wednesday, Dec. 22 between 1 — 6 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church at 675 S 7th St, or to be delivered along with holiday groceries.
To sign up for holiday groceries and gifts, visit online at bit.ly/holday_groceries. The deadline for sign-up is Nov. 24.
People can also drop by the ROP office in person or call at 541-649-1169.
Meanwhile, nonprofit Community Sharing is also offering its annual Holiday Food Box, which will be distributed at the Community Sharing site at 1440 Birch Avenue from 1 — 7 p.m on Dec. 20. Bi-lingual applications are available online at communitysharing.org/?page_id=681 and will also be taken only until Nov. 24.
Community Sharing also endorses the Tree of Joy program and paper applications for this are available in the Community Sharing office.
In addition to these nonprofit projects, Magnolia Gardens Senior Living is inviting the Cottage Grove community to participate in its canned food drive which is taking place from Nov. 10 — Dec. 10.
There are designated bins at the senior living community for people to drive through and donate canned items that will be delivered to a local food pantry.
“We are asking that people drop off only non-perishable canned food items,” said Magnolia Gardens Community Relations Director Ruth Tracey. “There are so many families in need right now and any donation will be greatly accepted.”
Magnolia Gardens is located at 1425 Daugherty Avenue.
As usual, many of these programs rely deeply on volunteers to operate.
Organizations encourage dropping by their websites or calling their offices to inquire how to participate in this season’s many giving opportunities.
Looking Glass: www.lookingglass.us/ruralprogram
Community Sharing: communitysharing.org
Magnolia Gardens Senior Living: magnoliagardenssl.com
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