CULVER — Program Director for the Culver Community Christmas Basket Program Marlene Mahler has been preparing baskets of food and gifts since the project began 21 years ago. 

Mahler said, “A little over twenty years ago a group of us looked around at churches giving Christmas baskets, organizations giving Christmas baskets, the school was giving names to people for Christmas baskets, the Neighborhood Center had a program. Nobody was regulating those. People would apply at two or three different places. Some people were getting more than one basket while others in need weren’t getting anything. We decided that we would try to coordinate and combine many of these efforts here.

We called the school, the churches and all the groups together that were doing things. We called the neighborhood center and said that we wanted to form this group. Anybody who has any names of somebody who needs help can send it in to this group and we will divide them out.”

Multiple organizations and churches get involved. “The Kiwanis takes five families, the VFW takes five families, Grace Church takes five families, Trinity Lutheran takes two, and the Academy dorms take families. Anybody who wants to donate money can send it to this group and then we will make sure that everybody is covered and that everybody that needs can get something. 

The Catholic Church takes 45 to 50 children. They make ornaments with their needs (not names) and place them on a tree for parishioners to take. They buy the gifts. They bring me the gifts. The church provides monetary support and then we put the gifts and the food together.” 

The program is confidential. Needs are allocated by numbers. The Culver Police Department, EMS, and Fire Department make the deliveries. 

Mahler said that the program appreciates any gift. “I have a lady who sends me a check for $10 every year. That is what she can afford and that is absolutely wonderful! We add that to $25, $50, and $1,000 that are donated and all of a sudden this $30,000 project is funded!” 

“It works!” Mahler smiled. “We help people in the Culver School District. Senior citizens, children, no children, it doesn’t matter what ages. Anybody can send in a name. If you know someone in need send us their name. If the church knows someone in need they send us their names. The school sends us the majority of requests. The teachers and the counselor know the kids who are in need. They send me the names and addresses and then we send the application out to them. Families do have to complete the application and send it back. We do deliver to senior citizens without requiring an application.” 

The program is a community effort. “Park ’n Shop does a fantastic job of helping us with the groceries. I give them my list of food a couple months ahead of time, always ordering what we did the previous year. If I have more families, I add to it. By giving them the list a couple months ahead of time they can buy stuff for me as it is on sale and they store it for me. They provide it at just over their cost. I don’t have to pay retail.”

Students from the Culver Academies and from the Culver Community School Corporation help. “The academy brings their trucks. Park n Shop puts the food on the pallets. We load the pallets into the trucks and take it down to the high school on Friday. The principal, Mr. Brett Berndt. brings kids out to help unload. They help build boxes before we get there.” 

Saturday morning, volunteers arrive at 9 a.m. to help fill the baskets. They work in pairs. They fill the boxes according to numbers, so that confidentially is still maintained. 

This year, pick up will take place on Friday, December 13. Packing will be held Saturday, December 14. Food provisions for approximately two weeks will be delivered Sunday, December 15. Perishable items are added Sunday morning just prior to delivery. 

Apple juice, green beans, peas, carrots, corn, pork & beans, peaches, pears, fruit cocktail, applesauce, can tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, pasta noodles, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, jelly, boxed cereal, Raisin Bran, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, rice, canned soup, low sodium canned soup, dry soup, ketchup, crackers, sugar, brownie mix, toilet paper, paper towels, Kleenex, vegetable oil, cookies, pancake mix, syrup, cocoa mix, Hershey syrup, cups of apple sauce, peaches, pears, cheese, margarine and ham are among the provisions provided. Quantities vary based on the size of the household ranging from a senior citizen to families of over seven members. The gifts are delivered at the same time. 

146 adults and 142 children were provided for in 2018. “There is a lot of need in this area. By the lake and the academy there is a lot of money. But if you get away from that, Culver is a very needy town.” Mahler said. Monterey, Leiters Ford and Delong are part of the Culver School District and are served by the program. “There is a lot of need in those areas.”

“Thank God for the Monterey Fire Department and Leiters Ford. They take a lot of that food and deliver it down to that area.” 

Monetary donations can be mailed to: Culver Community Christmas Basket, Marlene Mahler, 17445 16th Road, Culver, IN, 46511. Please make checks out to Culver Community Christmas Basket. The program is a 501 c 3. Contributions are tax deductible. 

Mahler said, “It works. It is just a fantastic program. We have a wonderful community. We have an amazing amount of support. You can see the kids, adults and teachers. Mr. Berndt brings his own kids every year. It doesn’t matter what the age. There is a job everyone can do!” 

Mahler can be contacted at 574-952-0345 or at 574-842-3294 for information on how to volunteer. Applications for those in need must be completed and returned by Friday, November 15. 

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