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BRIAN BASHAM/RECORD The damien mitten trees are scattered throughout Detroit Lakes businesses. The public is welcome to donate hats and mittens, or money, for area children in need.

Helping children stay warm, happy: Damien Society, Anytime Fitness raising money, toys, mittens for area kids

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Some local children will be spending the holidays without one of their parents this year, as the war on terror has a group of area soldiers deployed overseas.

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That's why Anytime Fitness is teaming up with the Detroit Lakes Armory to help bring a little extra joy to the children of deployed military members.

"What we're doing is collecting money to buy toys for these kids," said Anytime Fitness Owner Tim Teragawa, who says this is the second year the toy drive has happened in Detroit Lakes.

Last year the fitness club was able to raise just a hair under $1,200 for the event, which they then used to check off a list of requests from the children.

"So we'll know going into it that we need to buy six Barbie dolls and eight footballs...or whatever," said Teragawa, who adds that the toy drive is for kids 12 and under.

The toys are then set up at the Armory for a big giveaway.

Volunteers for the event arrive that morning with three or four carts full of toys, and that's when the fun begins.

"They have cookies and snacks and apple cider and hot chocolate," said Teragawa, "and then we have several tables full of toys that they can choose from."

Teragawa says tough economic times are so far making for a slow start to the donations, but he hopes incentives through the club will help rally a little support.

"If somebody donates $20 dollars or more, they get a T-shirt; if they donate $50 dollars or more, they'll get a free month membership at Anytime Fitness," said Teragawa. "And if they don't personally want the membership, we'll give them a gift certificate for it so they can give it to a friend or family member."

Teragawa says out of all the fundraisers throughout the city, he chose to help start this one because of what this group of kids has to go through.

"It's tough on a kid when their parents are gone like this, doing what they do, and so I think as a city, we should try to help them," he said.

The toys will be handed out on Dec. 17, so Anytime Fitness will take donations up until the 16th.

Damien Mitten Tree

The women of the Damien Society are also out doing what they can to warm the hearts and hands of people in need.

There are currently 13 Damien Mitten Trees dotting Detroit Lakes businesses, and they are slowly filling up with hats, mittens and scarves.

"It's cold up in this neck of the woods," said Damien Beth Schupp, who is chairing the event this year, "and I think members of the Damiens are all mothers, and it's always hard to see kids around that don't have mittens."

Schupp says the Damiens in Detroit Lakes have been carrying on the tradition of their mitten trees for about 40 years after a bus driver told one of them about the unfortunate children who would get on and off the bus without mittens.

"Now in these economic times, there are still kids who go without," said Schupp, who adds that last year there were 700 to 900 donations given out.

The children's apparel mostly goes to the school, while some of the adult sizes are donated to The Refuge and the Lakes Crisis and Resource Center.

Schupp says it's really neat when people donate homemade items to the trees.

"We have a lady who lives in Arizona who knits up a bunch of things and then sends them in a big box back to us in Minnesota," said Schupp, who says cash donations can also be made to the Damiens, who will then turn around and purchase items.

They'll be collecting all the apparel from the trees on the morning of Dec. 22, and distributing them that day.

"It's such an easy thing to do, and it's an easy way to feel good about having something like this become part of your Christmas tradition," said Schupp.

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