The aroma of Christmas fills the air, not only bringing delight to new owners of beautiful, fresh evergreens, but also the countless local families the proceeds help support.
Timber Bay Youth local director Todd McQuown uses the Christmas fundraiser to support area youth and families he works with throughout the year. The local nonprofit youth mentor organization offers fresh Christmas trees, wreaths, and garland available to purchase Nov. 20–Dec. 11 at the Okoboji Conference Grounds, filling the large space with smells of Christmas.
“All of the proceeds go back to our local kids and families,” McQuown says. “We then use it to help our families during the Christmas season, as well as throughout the year.”
This year, McQuown will be showcasing White Pine with longer needles and Balsam Fur with shorter needles. There will be plain and decorated wreaths, as well as 50-foot rolls of garland available for any length. He enjoys helping people find what they’re looking for, while assisting them with their decorating needs.
“We talk through what size they need, what types of ornaments they use and even the color of lights. Some trees look better with white lights, or how the longer branches hold heavier ornaments easier,” he shared.
The trees come from a grower out of Northern Minnesota, a connection McQuown developed within the Timber Bay organization. When the trees are delivered, McQuown uses area youth to help unload all the trees. The group sets the trees up in the Okoboji Bible Conference Tabernacle, directly across the street from the old Okoboji Middle School and Amy's Sign Design.
“The area is chilly at times but protected from the elements. It’s warmer than outside, and we don’t have to worry about shaking snow off the trees or wind blowing them down. The biggest bonus is it smells like Christmas when you walk into the Tabernacle,” he said.
McQuown’s goal is to sell 100 Christmas trees that range in height and size and between $50 – $80. There are smaller Charlie Brown-style Christmas trees for less. Other trees he uses for people who just want fresh branches for decorating.
“We really have something for everyone,” he said.
Timber Bay Mentoring Outreach
For the past nine years, Todd and his wife Alexis have been ministering to area youth and families through Timber Bay. The goal of their ministry is to help “break the cycle” of hardships children have faced and encourage them to form healthy relationships as they grow, which in turn helps them to build strong, healthy marriages and families.
“Permanent change doesn’t occur quickly or always on our timeline, but when our kids know they have long-lasting, consistent caring relationships in their lives, it makes a positive difference,” McQuown shared. “Our kids come from hard places and not always a tough economic place. Everyone has different sets of challenges, but all kids need to know someone cares for them and is willing to walk with them. Sometimes it just means helping them turn their attitude in a positive direction regarding their challenges.”
Right now, because of time and resources, McQuown mainly works with Okoboji and Spirit Lake students. However, he also has developed connections with students from outlying districts and into Minnesota.
For instance, on Tuesdays during lunch, he is at the Spirit Lake High School talking with students. On Wednesdays, he’s at lunch and recess at Okoboji Middle School, and then Spirit Lake Middle School on Thursdays. He spends time talking to students, as well as playing games with the younger ages at recess.
“It’s the beginning of developing a relationship, so if they find themselves in a situation where they need help, we already have a relationship built. It saves the trust building time, because we are already trustworthy,” McQuown said. “And when you play with kids, they let you into their world. They crave being around people who care about them.”
McQuown also works with kids one on one or in small groups. The family owns an acreage near Spirit Lake where they love to host big or small youth events. His goal is to get kids outside as much as possible, whether it’s walking, biking, camping, or around a campfire. He takes small groups to the Timber Bay Camp in North Central Minnesota several times a year.
“I want to open their eyes to what’s out there for them,” he added. “We also want them to know they are loved and we care.”
Right now, the McQuown family is closely working with twenty families throughout the area. Depending on their need, much time is spent on communication and helping the family.
"We want to see teens thrive; to see them grow emotionally, spiritually, and relationally," McQuown shared. "Everyone benefits from having mentors walking alongside of us. If you are a healthy, successful adult, it's probably because someone saw something in you and cared enough to share their life, knowledge, and experience."
Each Timber Bay community group hosts a weekly gathering for youth in the area, as well as a monthly activity. These groups are flexible enough that any teen can join at any time, giving them a safe haven in which they can experience belonging, acceptance, and hope.
Through moments like these, families are being positively changed. The McQuowns verbally share their Christian faith when appropriate. “Then we are just a friend,” Todd said. “When Jesus is a part of their lives, then we help and encourage their faith walk to grow. We want people to see Jesus in us, so they want to know more.”
This Christmas, the McQuown family will give back to area families in every way available. They host a Christmas party for area youth they work closely with, providing special Christmas gifts for all the kids. Many years, Wal-mart partners with them and provides a gift card to help with purchasing supplies and gifts for the party.
“It’s a great time to celebrate our kids and the meaning of Christmas,” Todd said.
If anyone is interested in helping support their Christmas party for Timber Bay families or like to support the nonprofit ministry throughout the year, contact McQuown at email@example.com or timberbay.org/give/mcquown. His vision is to expand and raise finances so he could hire part-time staff to assist with the needs in the community, as well as save for a new 15-passenger van.
“Whatever is given goes back to our area kids and families,” he said. “Throughout the year, we also appreciate those who want to provide snacks, make cookies, or support us in prayer. It is all appreciated. We just want to show our kids someone loves them.”