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Caring Tree aims to spread ‘the magic of Christmas’ throughout Portage

December 7, 2018

The 28th annual Portage Area Caring Tree needs 11th-hour contributions to reach or exceed past success.

About 150 tags still hang on the Christmas trees in six local banks, organizer Vickie Greenwold estimated Tuesday. The tags detail the desired gifts for local children in need and the deadline to return them to banks with corresponding gifts is Thursday.

“It’s not going like it usually does,” said Greenwold, who has volunteered for the Caring Tree for the past 14 years. “We’re looking for a big push.”

The Caring Tree seeks donations, too, especially since applications for gifts still are coming in, Greenwold said. The window to apply for receiving gifts already has closed, but volunteers every year strive to purchase gifts even for late applicants through donations.

“It’s still early in December, so we understand that some people are just now starting to think about it,” Greenwold said of late applicants, as well as the tags still hanging on trees.

Caring Tree volunteers delivered gifts to about 600 area children last year. Volunteers likely will have at least that many gifts to deliver this year, too, Greenwold said, and they typically need to shop for about 70 children after the deadline.

“My books are full,” she said.

About 60 tags still hang on the Christmas tree at Portage State Bank, Greenwold used as an example. The bank has participated since it opened as Portage National Bank 14 years ago, employee Tammy Schwark said.

“Our customers do the best with this event more than any other event we’ve ever sponsored,” Schwark said. “We’ve always had a great response here. I’m a little surprised we still have any tags left on the trees.”

Caring Tree volunteer Liz Bellmore said she has “every bit of confidence” the community once again will step up and take the remaining tags. She’s seen the community respond too often to be worried.

“This community is so amazing,” said Bellmore, who started volunteering for the Caring Tree when Greenwold took it over from Portage residents Rich and Cheryl Heimerl eight years ago.

“I just filled up the whole back end of my pickup truck with gifts,” Bellmore said of a recent trip to Associated Bank in Portage. “Every year people come out in droves to make sure all of the children get to enjoy the magic of Christmas. That’s the miracle of this whole program — the people coming out to support our community.”

Bellmore taught for 34 years in Portage elementary schools before Fort Winnebago closed in 2013 and her teaching career provided valuable perspective when she contributes to the cause, she said.

“At this time of year, seeing the kids so excited for Christmas, it’s tangible,” Bellmore said. “This event helps kids in every economic situation and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”

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