The giving season

The Mitten Tree stands next to a sign for Santa’s Closet donations at the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce.

NEW ULM — The holiday season is often marked as a season of excess and materialism, but it is also the season for giving. In the New Ulm area there are several organizations and charities working to help those in need.

For over 30 years the New Ulm Sertoma Club has been seeking donations this time of year for the Santa’s Closet program. Santa’s Closet provides toys, books, mittens and hats for children who otherwise would not be able to celebrate the holiday.

Sertoma has organized the event for over three decades, but the idea to distribute toys in Brown County during the holidays began in 1975 and was run through Brown County Family Services. The program proved to be successful and Family Services spun it off to Sertoma after 10 years and it has continued to grow through the generosity of the local community.

Area businesses sponsor a Tree of Christmas Wishes which includes cards listing the age and gender of a child in need of toy for Christmas. Customers can then take a card and purchase an appropriate gift for that child. The toy is then dropped off at one of the contributing sites.

Over the years the local schools are also major supporters of the program. Bus loads of students and parents are organized for shopping sprees to supply Santa’s Closet with toys.

The Brown County Humane Society has many cats and dogs for adoption and is always seeking donations.

Santa’s Closet serves children from newborns to 12 year-olds whose names have been referred by Brown County Family Services. Parents are given the opportunity to select a gift for their child.

“Its not a small project,” Sertoma Treasurer Ken Vonderharr said. “We get amazing contributions from local businesses. Its an amazing community effort and we appreciate what we get.”

Cash donations are also accepted. Checks can made out to “Santa’s Closet” and mailed to P.O. Box 692 New Ulm, MN, 56073.

Some people in need cannot wait until Christmas for assistance and as temperatures drop over the next month many will be in need of warm clothing such as coats, hats, mittens and gloves. Thankfully the Clothing Depot on 1600 S. Franklin Street has been a great resource for those in need in Brown County by providing free clothing items.

No referrals or applications are necessary. If someone is need of warm clothes this winter the Depot will help. Manager Lori Hoffmann said the Clothing Depot has around 30 volunteer workers and has been a part of the community since 1971. In addition to clothing the Depot will take bedding, curtain, drapes, dishes, cookware, purses, kids toys, games and books. The only items the Clothing Depot cannot accept are furniture, food or electrical appliances.

he Clothing Depot at 1600 South Franklin provides winter clothing to anyone in need.

Clothing Depot is open Monday evenings 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Wednesday mornings 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and through special appointment.

In addition to the Clothing Depot there are several thrift shops capable of taking in clothing donations as well as furniture and appliances. One of the oldest thrift shops in New Ulm is the non-profit Treasure Haus which takes in used clothing, housewares, furniture, toys, books, jewelry, sports equipment, linens and more.

Treasure Haus has been in the New Ulm community for 31 years and recently relocated to 1700 S. Broadway. The larger space allows them to take in and display larger donated items.

Manager Lynne Koepsell estimated around 120 people volunteer their time at Treasure Haus. “Many just come in from the community looking to help. It’s a fun place to work,” said Koepsell.

Most of the stores profits help fund the Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School, but 25 percent of revenue generated goes to rotating list of charities. In 2016 the thrift store gave to 13 charities including Jesus Cares Ministries, East Fork (Arizona) Lutheran Schools, MVL Foundation, WELS Prison Ministry, Mission to the Children, Kingdom Workers, Martin Luther College, Wisconsin Lutheran Child & Family Services, European Civilian Chaplaincy Program, Minnesota State Campus Ministries: The Beacon Center, Joy in Jesus Camp, Lutheran Institutional Ministry Association and Christian Life Ministries. Koepsell said every year the board approves a new list of charities. Many of the same charities will reapply but any organization may submit an application by Dec. 31 for consideration in 2017.

Other charities and non-profits serve the community by providing a warm place for those in need. Brown County Humane Society has been helping our four-legged friends since 1981. The animal shelter is located at 1301 S. Valley Street and takes in lost and unwanted cats and dogs for adoption. It is a no-kill shelter, meaning no time limits are set on pets awaiting adoption.

Humane Society Board Chairman, Gerald Woodley, said the shelters guidelines suggest they house around 45 cats and 10 dogs. At this time the shelter is a little over this number. Brown County has been receiving more animals since the Renville-Sibley County Humane Society disbanded. On the positive side, this has led to increased donations.

Last year the shelter adopted out 483 animals. As of November of this year the shelters has adopted out 403 pets.

The animals are cared for by around a dozen people who actively volunteer with the shelter and another 40 or 50 helping when and where possible.

“Most are specialized volunteers,” Woodley said. “We try to find out their strengths to find a job the best suits them.”

Three times each day volunteers come to the shelter to feed and walk the dogs. This ensure the canines get in at least a mile and half walk each day. The cats’ areas are also cleaned twice a day.

Most of the day-to-day jobs at the Humane Society include chores associated with the animals but others volunteer with fundraiser efforts. The Humane Society’s largest annual fundraiser is the Wine Tasting held on Nov. 10 and the second largest event is the Herberger’s coupon sale. The Humane Society will conduct another fundraiser at Herberger’s in the near future. This weekend (Dec. 3 and Dec. 4) as well as next weekend (Dec. 10 through Dec. 11) will have gift-wrapping stations setup at the department store. There will also be a Christmas Bake & Craft Sale at Oak Hill Living Center from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Dec. 10.

Any cash donations can be dropped off at the shelter of Valley Street or mailed to P.O. Box 512, New Ulm, MN 56073

One of New Ulm’s newest charitable organization is NUMAS Haus, which provides emergency shelter and support to homeless single mother families with school age children. The program helps families find permanent housing while addressing the root cause of homelessness for each family through counseling, education programs and case management. The program also allows children to remain enrolled in New Ulm schools.

NUMAS Haus is currently up and running and accepts donations to sustain the operation. NUMAS Haus accepts cash donations as well as gifts to run the household. At this time NUMAS Haus is in need of a stock pot or dutch oven, slow cooker, microwave cookware, child’s car seats, learning toys and children books. Contribution to NUMAS Haus may be mailed to PO Box 291, New Ulm, MN 56073.

Organizations NUMAS Haus, Clothing Depot, Humane Society and other area charities require are always in need of volunteers and funds to keep operations running. Area residents are encouraged to give what they able to worthy causes not just during the holiday season, but year round.