Volunteers fill bags of food with Christmas spirit
For 18 holiday seasons, Diane and Roger Tlougan have guided a band of volunteers to fill and deliver bags of food as gifts to area seniors.
“This has been our baby,” Diane Tlougan said Saturday as she oversaw more than 40 volunteers prepare bags of canned goods, cereal and other items for distribution to 330 households.
Working under the umbrella of Christmas Anonymous, the annual effort was happening long before the Tlougans took over the helm, and they expect it will continue now that they are ready to let others take the lead.
“It’s bittersweet,” Diane Tlougan told the volunteers as they started Saturday at Christ United Methodist Church.
At the same time, she said it’s an opportunity for new blood to get involved and make changes to keep the effort fresh.
Diane Tlougan said that’s what she and her husband did when they took it over, eventually turning a two-day process into a six-hour effort to package and deliver the bags of food.
Volunteer Bob Taraba said the Tlougans deserve a break.
“They are absolutely amazing people,” he said while taking a quick break from helping Roger Tlougan organize filled bags for delivery.
Taraba has been part of the volunteer crew for more than a decade, along with his wife, Beth, and their children, and said he plans to continue being a part of the effort and may take on added responsibility.
Diane Tlougan said no one has been named to fill the organizers’ shoes, but people like Taraba have expressed interest in making sure the effort continues.
That was good news for Donna Stephan, who was helping for her first time Saturday, alongside her husband, Gail, who was an old hand with three years of volunteering.
“It’s a good thing for the community,” she said, noting she hopes to continue helping in years to come.
Saturday’s food pack is the first of the Christmas Anonymous effort to distribute holiday cheer to low-income residents this year, but it won’t be the last.
The annual packing of food boxes for families has been moved to Channel One and will be held Monday.
Meanwhile, the organization’s toy drive was completed Saturday and efforts are underway to open the Christmas Anonymous store on Saturday to as many as 659 families, which, like the number of senior food boxes, is up from last year.
Volunteer Wendy Francis said Saturday the 659 families was the last number she’s heard, but noted some families who sign up don’t attend each year, so she expects the number to be lower by Saturday.
Last year, Christmas Anonymous provided food and gifts to 542 families and delivered 295 senior food boxes.
In her fourth year helping man the Christmas Anonymous donation center at Christ United Methodist Church, Francis said she’s always amazed by the community’s generosity, from individuals to community groups spread throughout Rochester, Stewartville, Byron and other communities.
“The communities are so generous,” she said, looking at a growing number of toys, bikes and clothing that were being gathered in the church Saturday with plans to give them away a week later.
“It’s my favorite two weeks of the year,” she added.