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Making the season bright in trying times

A local family and friends distribute donated Christmas gifts to 600-plus kids.

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Among the volunteers who participated in the Christmas gift giveaway Dec. 11 at Abide Vineyard Church were, standing from left, Oliver Manlove, Bethany Whitworth, Sheryl Kosel, Norman Denstedt, Joan Huot, Robby Lien, Renee Manlove and Kenny Manlove; seated, Tanja Zentz and John Zentz. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

The father-daughter team of John and Tanja Zentz continued a family tradition on Friday at Abide Vineyard church. Joined by a team of friends and volunteers, they spread Christmas cheer by the bagful, loading donated presents into cars in a drive-through distribution.

It was the COVID-19 version of the Toys for Girls and Boys and Tiny Tots program, which the family has organized annually since 2017.

John said the toy drive benefits children in three counties who have no other way of getting Christmas presents.

“We do close to 200 families,” he said. “I think we had 186 families this year, but over 600 children.”

He said families sign up, listing their children’s age, sex and what they would like to have for Christmas. “We try to fill that,” he said. “We do pretty well. We get a lot of tremendous donors.”

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“We have two weekends of sign-up,” said Tanja. “Families in need will come to the American Legion on Saturday, usually the first and second Saturday in November.”

After making the list and checking it twice, Tanja said, she asks local churches and businesses how much they would like to help. Some churches and businesses adopt families, while others hold toy drives.

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Kenny Manlove and his son Oliver load a family's Christmas presents into the back of their car during Friday's giveaway. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

In addition, “there’s many individuals that I have on a list that I call,” she said. “There’s a single individual in town that donates many, but he wants to remain anonymous. There’s toy drop boxes all around town, so we get all kinds of toys. So, whatever families don’t get adopted out … we use the toy drop boxes to fill all of the families in need.”

Tanja said a lot of folks didn’t want to shop for toy donations this year, due to COVID-19. “So there was a lot of (monetary) donations this year, and I personally did a lot of shopping.”

She added that Dorothy Meyer, a member of Calvary Lutheran Church, offered to collect donations from members of the congregation and do the shopping for them. Meyer “took a big chunk of this on,” Tanya said.

Besides the gifts themselves, volunteers also handed out wrapping paper, tape, bags of candy and for a few families, a little something extra.

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“We have a guy who refurbishes TVs,” said Tanja, “and he asked if we could use any, if any families would want TVs. I said, ‘Probably!’ So, he brought eight TVs, that we’ve been giving to random families. It’s pretty cool.”

Related Topics: CHRISTMAS
Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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