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Mitten Tree spreads Christmas cheer

Members of the Osakis Women's Association shop for presents during last year's Mitten Tree program. They included (left to right) Lyla Engfer, Christine Uhl, Heidi Ciepielinski and Cindy Halbur. Not pictured is Shelly Engfer-Triebenbach. (Contributed)1 / 3
A "family" of mittens is waiting to be plucked from the Mitten Tree at Osakis City Hall. (Emily Myrin / Osakis Review) 2 / 3
The Osakis Mitten Tree is now on display at Osakis City Hall. The program is sponsored by the Osakis Women's Association. (Emily Myrin / Osakis Review)3 / 3

The Mitten Tree — an easy way to brighten Christmas for children in Osakis — is up and ready at Osakis City Hall.

The purpose of the Mitten Tree is to help local families in need provide gifts for their children.

The program, which has been running for more than 20 years, is still in high demand. Applications for this year's program started coming in three weeks ago, according to the Osakis Women's Association, which sponsors the effort.

Here are the rules for receiving gifts:

• You must live in Osakis or your child must attend an Osakis School.

• All applications must be filled out by a parent or legal guardian.

• One application per child, (separated/divorced parents may not apply individually).

• The application deadline was Monday, Dec. 4 but later applications will be considered as needed.

• No major electronic game systems or games, cash or gift cards will be given.

Each child's information is taken from the application — sex, age, clothing sizes, and items from their "wish list" — and written on a paper mitten that is hung on the Mitten Tree.

Members of the community can come in and take a mitten or mittens and shop for a specific child, or family.

"There has been a shift over the past few years with less people from our community shopping for individual children, which leaves significantly more shopping for the OWA to do, which we love to do but is a huge undertaking and financially very expensive," said Heidi Ciepielinski, chair of the Mitten Tree program.

In addition to making sure that each child gets two toy/gift type items, the OWA also tries to make sure they are all given some clothing or pajamas.

"If we have enough funds, we give gift certificates to Osakis Family Foods so they can have a nice Christmas meal," Ciepielinski said. "The Lutheran Church also helps us provide some handmade quilts to some of the families."

Last year, the OWA was able to help more than 90 children from 32 families, all who lived directly in the own community. The estimated expense for gifts and grocery store certificates last year was $3,000.

The community can contribute to the Mitten Tree program in three ways:

• Pick up a mitten at City Hall and shop for a specific child by Monday. Dec. 11.

• Donate new unwrapped toys and gifts for children 0-18 years old by Dec. 11. Gifts can be brought to City Hall, the First National Bank of Osakis or to the donation box at Dollar General.

• Offer a financial donation. Donations can be brought to City Hall or mailed to the OWA, PO Box. 262, Osakis MN 56360.

"Toy and gift donations are a great way to participate too," Ciepielinski said. "We need lots of extra gifts to even out the number or presents each child receives."

Because it's rare for any individual to buy gifts for a whole family, there are often many community members shopping for different children in one family. If there are four children in a family, for example, there could be four people buying gifts, which could result in some children in the same family getting more gifts than their siblings.

"When organizing day comes, we use those random donations to make sure that each child has an equal amount," Ciepielinski said. "Those donations make our job easier and require us to do less shopping."

Gift ideas include bath toys, Barbies, cars and trucks, action figures, fuzzy blankets, hat/mitten sets, flashlights, Legos, books, arts and craft sets, and beauty items for teenage girls.

After Dec. 11, the OWA spends a day organizing the donations and making lists.

After a busy day of shopping, members then organize and bag up the gifts for each family.

"We bag the gifts up unwrapped, but give the parents wrapping paper and gift tags so they can wrap them themselves," Ciepielinski said.

Gifts can be picked up at City Hall starting Monday, Dec. 18. If they are ready sooner, the OWA will call families and notify them.

City Hall hours are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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