OKANOGAN Food, winter hats and toys will be distributed Saturday morning in the Omak-Okanogan Community Christmas Basket Program.
Distribution starts at 8 a.m. at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds Agriplex, 175 Rodeo Trail Road. As many people as possible will be allowed inside the building during distribution so they don’t have to wait outside in the cold, co-chairwoman Constanza Smith said.
Basket recipients are asked to bring along a phone, electric or city utility bill to prove residence in Riverside, Conconully, Omak, Okanogan or Malott, Smith said. Arrangements can be made for limited basket delivery for shut-ins.
Each basket will contain food for Christmas dinner, along with staples for a week.
In Omak and Okanogan, school groups are helping with the basket program.
In Omak, high school students collected non-perishable food last week to support the basket program.
During the week, Omak collected 1,443 canned and dried goods, 821 pounds of potatoes and $351.29 cash.
“This was double the number of items on record from last year,” Associated Student Body adviser Randy Smith said.
Rewards were offered for the amount of food gathered.
One of those rewards was paid off Monday, when Principal David Kirk took on Omak senior Jacob Cutrell on the wrestling mat.
Kirk held his own for two rounds against Cutrell — the reigning regional champion and sixth-ranked wrestler in 1A — before Cutrell clinched the victory by pin at the 4:30 mark.
In Okanogan, students are collecting money for the basket program, with the effort culminating in the annual Polar Plunge. The more money raised, the more people will plunge, sophomore Laura Brown said.
The plunge is set for 2:30 p.m. Friday on the football field. The Okanogan Fire Department provides a portable pool and cold water.
“It’s basically to give back to our community,” Brown said.
Classes, from sixth-grade through seniors, compete against each other. Daily prizes include cookies and candy canes.
For each pre-set level of donations achieved, one more class of students will plunge, followed by the staff, principals and a school board member. This year’s designated board member is Monte Andrews.
Along with the food, the Christmas Basket Program includes toys provided by area motorcycle groups and hats made and collected by the Caps for Kids program. The latter also includes mittens and coats.
Betty Wilson of the Gold Wing Touring Group said the goal is to have $4,000 worth of toys available. Donation cans, the annual Toy Run and business donations support the program.
Toys will be purchased Friday and taken to the Agriplex for distribution the following morning. Toy donations can be arranged by contacting Wilson at 509-422-3438.
Caps for Kids, spearheaded by Vickie Ledger of Omak, last year donated 1,800 hats to the Omak-Okanogan Community Christmas Basket Project and local schools. The goal is to give as many this year.
More than a dozen women knit, crochet and create hats on weaving looms. Some also make scarves. Ledger supplies much of the yarn, which people donate and she purchases at yard sales.
She also scours sales for coats, boots, gloves and hats; business donations also help, she said.
Basket organizers with the Omak Kiwanis Club and Omak-Okanogan Civic League draw on a variety of businesses, clubs, school groups, churches and others to provide donated food, cash and meat certificates. The goal is to assemble at least 280 baskets, Smith said.
Donations will be accepted from 4-7 p.m. each evening through Friday at the Agriplex. Bulk donations will be assembled those days into apple boxes provided by Gebbers Farms.
Holiday dinner suggestions include a meat certificate (small, $10, or large, $12-$15), plus canned vegetables (corn and beans suggested), potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing mix and dessert mix.
Suggested staple items include rice, beans, cereal, jelly, peanut butter, syrup, pancake mix, oil, tuna, main dish mixes, powdered milk, flour, noodles, soup and fruit or juice.
Donations of individual food items can be made, or a business, group or family can donate a complete basket, organizers said.
Cash donations can be made to the Community Christmas Basket Account at the Omak branch of Wells Fargo Bank, 21 W. First St.
Smith said monetary and meat certificate donations are especially needed this year, since the account isn’t as healthy has it has been in past years.
Basket organizers often have to supplement donated food with purchased items to round out the baskets’ contents.
She said Okanogan County is one of the poorest areas in the state and more people seem to be in need this year than ever before.
U.S. Census statistics show one in five people in the county were living below the federal poverty level by the end of 2011.