Every Christmas, a special tree spreads joy and hope through countless homes in the Spencer community. Through the Tree of Joy, the spirit of Christmas visits over 100 grateful kids and their families because of the generosity of Spencer Jaycees, local businesses, and Upper Des Moines in Clay County.
For 100 years, the Spencer Jaycees have organized the Tree of Joy project in Spencer and eased what could be a difficult season for families.
“Every family is so appreciative when we knock on their door and bring gifts and food. They are so grateful for the help they receive,” said Jaycees Board Member Craig Neiderheiser.
The event is in partnership with Clay County’s Upper Des Moines Opportunity, who compiles a list of families in the community who would be blessed by the extra help.
Families in Clay and Dickinson County can access holiday assistance programs through their local Upper Des Moines Outreach office, in Spencer or Spirit Lake. Families can sign up for the program and provide wish lists for the children in the family. These programs help area low-income families. To participate, proof of residency and income are required.
“Many of our families are struggling to make ends meet and provide the basic necessities for their family. Others may be living on a fixed income or dealing with health issues,” said Dawn Dahm from Upper Des Moines Opportunity. “The holidays can bring a lot of additional stress to these families, and these programs offer a welcome sense of relief to parents who are dealing with financial difficulties. Everyone who participates is so very grateful - this is true for both the contributors and recipients.”
Once UDMO has gathered lists that include children’s ages, clothing sizes and a few needs and wants, they are given to the Jaycees, who as a group go shopping together to fulfill the lists. Each year, they generally help over 100 kids and impact 30-40 families.
“We personally shop for them the Wednesday before we deliver, which this year will be Dec. 18,” Neiderheiser said. “We get their ages and sizes, as well as toys they may like.”
Along with the gifts for the children, they provide a full holiday meal from Fareway, which includes a full turkey dinner, as well as stuffing, apple pie, jello salad, potatoes, and all the fixings.
Area businesses like Spencer Menards, SMU, Northwest Bank, and the Hen House also serve as drop off sites for toys, gifts and funds, allowing the entire community to share in the joy of Christmas.
“We have such a good partnership with these businesses—they are huge supporters and such a help,” Neiderheiser added.
Throughout the year, private donors will also call members and give funds or toys. In 2021, the Jaycees received a $2500 grant through Hoepner Trust in Spencer. One year, a local man donated over $1000 in farm toys and Legos.
“It is so neat to see the giving spirit of so many people, especially when you get to share that with kids later and see their excitement with the gifts,” he shared.
The rest of the money is fundraised through the Spencer Jaycees’ annual Haunted House, which is held the last two weekends in October. Entrants also donate canned goods for UDMO for reduced admittance. Another fundraiser takes place through a food booth during the Clay County Fair, as well as the Jacyees’ Triathlon that takes place in the summer.
The money raised then goes back into the presents and food at Christmas time, sharing joy and hope.
“We typically spend $75-100 on each child,” Neiderheiser said. “The best day is when we deliver the gifts. It is also so good for our members to see where the fundraising goes, as the families show their appreciation, and you can see how much it helps.
For those interested in contributing to the Spencer Jaycees' Tree of Joy project, they can contact Neiderheiser at (515) 368-3070, firstname.lastname@example.org, or through the Spencer Jaycees Facebook page. Donation boxes will also be located at Menards, SMU, Northwest Bank or The Hen House.
If anyone would like to contribute to any of the holiday programs in Clay County, they can contact Dawn Dahm at (712) 262-7409 or email@example.com. In Dickinson County, they can reach out at 712-336-1112.