Many hands doing good

Needy in Ellis County will have a Merry Christmas, thanks to Salvation Army, local donations, volunteers

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Marci Brunner jumps from the trailer she was helping her dad, Travis Brunner, center, and her brother, Easton, fill with toys and food baskets on Friday.
Lavon Weber, left, Starla Gano, center, and Roselin Pfeifer on Saturday volunteered to wrap scores of toys and other items donated to the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program for the needy in Ellis County.
The Brunner children, left to right, Marci, Easton, Mason and Hunter, with their mom and dad, Travis and Laura, loaded a trailer Saturday with food baskets and toys to donate to the Salvation Army.

Wrapping presents Saturday morning at the Hadley Center for the Salvation Army's Angel Tree families, Starla Gano recounted one mother who had signed up for the Christmas gift program.

"She was asking for basic necessities, pillows and a mattress pad," said Gano, an employee of Unified School District 489 who helps families in need within the school district connect with financial assistance. Many of her families applied to be on the Angel Tree. "One child wanted a stuffed animal to sleep with, and her son wanted a tool box and tool set. Some of these stories break your heart."

From across the room, Julie Smith, executive director of the Salvation Army of Ellis County, remembered the woman's very basic request.

"She'd already told her kids they wouldn't get any presents for Christmas," said Smith.

But Christmas 2020 will be a whole lot brighter, thanks to the many people who donated toys and items to fulfill the wishes on the Angel Tree, which was put up this year at Fuzzy's Tacos, 4310 Vine. It held requests from 40 families with 95 children.

While the recommended dollar limit was $35 per gift, some items, like a camera and bicycles, cost way more.

"Some people went above and beyond," Gano said, looking around the room. "So much generosity."   

The biggest donation came from "Grain that gives," a project started this year by Travis and Laura Brunner, of Hays.

Through sales of more than a million bushels of grain and some private donations from farmers, the project generated about $15,000, said Travis, owner of Sunrise Agribusiness Solutions LLC, 201 W. 11th St. Much of that went to the Salvation Army in Ellis County. 

“Sunrise would donate one cent for every bushel that the farmer or grain companies sold to us in the month of December,” Travis said. “It’s come up to about $10,000, about a million bushels that we bought. And the grain that was sold to us, where we purchased it from, that’s where we gave back to the community.”

Sunrise is helping counties and towns, including Winona, Republic, Belleville, Clay Center, Gove, Oakley, Ellis, Rooks and Rush, he said.

“I think the total that we're giving is a little over $10,000 to the Salvation Army in toys or food,” he said. “We were adamant that every dollar went as far as it could, children first and then families that were in the most need for food for the holidays.”

In addition, Scott Foote, co-owner of Hoxie Feedyard, Hoxie, has matched with a penny every bushel that Sunrise sold to him in December, Brunner said. 

“So we got other grain companies participating, and area farmers also heard about it,” Brunner said. “So we had some private donors come in, too. I think the total of the campaign for our first year, it was probably going to be something close to $15,000, when it’s all said and done.”

Travis, his wife, Laura, their four children, his mother-in-law Linda Staab, and his office assistant McKenzie Zoda, recently did a shopping spree for toys and groceries.

“It took at least six to eight trips to Walmart,” Brunner said Friday as they all pitched in to load the toys and food into a trailer for delivery to the Salvation Army in the Hadley Center, 203 E. 7th St.

One of those trips was five hours long, as they hand-picked the toys on the wish lists.

“We wanted to get our children involved, too, putting the baskets together, shopping and looking at the lists and understanding that other kids are less fortunate,” Travis said.

The food baskets were each filled with about $60 in food, he said.

“He has a heart of gold,” Smith said of Travis. “He’s been a blessing to work with. He wanted to do something for the community. But he also wanted to give back to kids in the community who are in need.”

Besides Sunrise and the farm businesses, Global sustainable energy company Invenergy, developer of the area Buckeye Wind Farm, donated $1,000 worth of toys.

“That’s been a blessing too,” Smith said.

Roselin Pfeifer, of Hays, a therapist at Via Christi Village assisted living, said she came on Saturday to help wrap the mountain of presents "because I saw a need and wanted to help them fill it."

Lavon Weber, of rural Hays, was another volunteer on hand.

"I kind of like to wrap presents, and I think a lot of the Salvation Army, it is a good organization," Weber said.

The wrapping started at 10 a.m. How long would they be in the room filled with gifts?

"Til we're done," Weber said. "I'm not sure how long that will take."