‘Mrs. Claus’ salvages midvalley gift-giving | AspenTimes.com

‘Mrs. Claus’ salvages midvalley gift-giving

BASALT – The generosity of an Aspen woman helped salvage an annual effort to make sure Santa Claus finds 350 or so kids in the midvalley with a gift for Christmas.

The woman contributed $3,500 to the Basalt Cares Family Christmas Party after the traditional fundraising efforts hit an unexpected snag.

“I believe in miracles, but I didn’t have any idea that it would work out like this,” said Rev. Marie Gasau of the Basalt Community United Methodist Church, who helps coordinate the effort.

For about 12 years, Basalt residents have worked with the U.S. Marine Corps and its Toys for Tots program to ensure that impoverished families in the Basalt and El Jebel area could give gifts to their children for Christmas. The Marine Corps ended its program in most of western Colorado this year for reasons that weren’t immediately clear, a spokesman from the recruiter’s office in Grand Junction said Tuesday.

Basalt officials learned that Toys for Tots was canceled after some collection stations were already set up in the Roaring Fork Valley this month. The toys that were collected were delivered this week to Delta County, where Toys for Tots remains in place.

Gasau said it was only right that toys collected as part of the Marine program get donated to the Marine program. She credited the Marine Corps for all the work it has done in the midvalley over the years and stressed she wasn’t criticizing them for focusing their attention elsewhere this year.

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Nevertheless, it left Basalt officials scrambling to replace the midvalley relief effort at a time when the need is growing. The Eagle County Health and Human Services Department and Basalt Family Resource Center provide the local Santas with the names of families that could use help with Christmas gifts. So far, 106 families are on the list, Gasau said Tuesday. She estimated from past experience that there are roughly 350 kids in those families. The recession left many people struggling to pay their bills, so Christmas gifts are a luxury that many pass up, she said.

Gasau and other volunteers started brainstorming last week on how to raise funds to buy the gifts after the demise of Toys for Tots. The goal was to raise at least $3,500, which provides a gift for about $10 for each child. “This was never meant to be spending $200 or $300 per child,” Gasau said.

About $400 was raised at the Sunday services of the Methodist congregations in Basalt and Meredith. That was a good start, but not nearly enough, Gasau said, and time was of the essence. The party, where parents are able to wrap a specially selected gift for their child and the children pick out something for their parents, will be held Saturday.

“I thought we were going to have to call it off,” she said.

Gasau’s prayers were answered Monday. A business deal brought her into contact by telephone with a woman from Aspen. Gasau said they shared stories about their holiday stress. Gasau explained to the woman how she was scrambling to raise funds for the gift program. The woman said she was in a position to help and pledged $3,500. Gasau was floored by the act of generosity.

“We were on the phone, and I just sat there with my mouth open,” Gasau said.

Gasau couldn’t reveal the identity of Mrs. Claus because she was uncertain if she wanted recognition for the donation.

Volunteers will use the donation to buy gifts at locals stores this week. The parents who are receiving help were asked to submit a specific request for each child. The kids typically want iPods, Wii games or other expensive items, Gasau said, but the lists also include more humble requests. The volunteer shoppers try to come as close as possible to honor those requests. At the party Saturday, the gifts will be distributed to the parents in a clandestine way to be presented to the kids.

The shoppers will also pick up work gloves, ladies toiletries and the like. At the party on Saturday, each child will be able to select an item for their mom and dad, wrap the presents and share it with their parents. It’s important for the kids to experience of the joy of giving as well as receiving, Gasau said.

Families will also receive gift cards to City Market to help purchase food for the holidays. Funds were left over from a successful Basalt Cares program at Thanksgiving time.

No additional financial funds are needed for the effort. However, Gasau said Christmas wrapping paper is always needed. It can be delivered Friday to the Basalt Community United Methodist Church, 0165 Holland Hills Road, near Basalt.

scondon@aspentimes.com