We Wish You a Caring Christmas: Local charity aids thousands, provides volunteer opportunities

Hope Brown, Features Editor

The annual Johnson County Christmas Bureau Holiday Shop is open from Dec. 5-13.

Juniors Lizzy Meinzenbach and Marie Hornung were among the 3,000 volunteers at the 2013 Holiday Shop, which served 3,300 families. Meinzenbach and Hornung participated with their church youth group from St. Michael the Archangel Parish.

The Christmas Bureau, which was founded in 1977, sponsors a week-long Holiday Shop that provides an opportunity for low-income families in Johnson County to select groceries, personal care items, clothing and gifts for the holidays.

Meinzenbach said she hoped to aid those less fortunate at the event.

“I thought it would be fun and a way to see how others have to live and how I can help them,” Meinzenbach said.

Potential shoppers submitted applications to prove they meet current poverty level guidelines and qualify for the aid of the Christmas Bureau.

At the Holiday Shop, volunteers help shoppers select a specified number of items according to the size of their families.

Both Meinzenbach and Hornung assisted clients at the food station.

“My job was taking cans of food and sorting and putting [them] onto tables,” Hornung said. “People would come by, and they would pick out meals. They would take one or two vegetables, one entrée and one can of beans.”

Meinzenbach said one of the prominent issues she experienced was a language barrier.

“[The atmosphere] was very crazy and stressful sometimes because some of the people didn’t speak English,” Meinzenbach said. “A lot of them spoke Spanish.”

Despite the communication issue, Meinzenbach said the shoppers were appreciative of the Christmas Bureau.

“[The clients] seemed very excited and relieved that they were able to get gifts because they all didn’t have the opportunities to get presents for their children every year,” Meinzenbach said.

Hornung said she learned valuable life lessons while volunteering.

“This sounds silly, but I did learn some organizational skills because it involved a lot of sorting of food,” Hornung said.

Meinzenbach said she is grateful for the opportunity to help out others in Johnson County.

“Everyone deserves a gift, no matter what it is,” Meinzenbach said. “People were getting the smallest things for their children — it was going to make their Christmas day.”