By Maria Lockwood
Ella Brill loves sparkly costumes, princesses and ponies. Her brother Jake likes Legos, Nerf guns and Spider Man. The two share a combined birthday bash every July. This year, however, they will use it to fight hunger.
When friends gather in Maple Saturday for the Brills’ “Spooktacular Boo-Day” party – Ella just turned 6, Jake will be 8 – they won’t bring gifts in bright wrapping paper. Instead, they’ll provide cans of vegetables, boxes of pasta and bags of rice for the Rural Care & Share Food Shelf.
“My present would be the gift of giving,” Jake said.
The food shelf donation was suggested by their mother, Becky Brill.
“We all need to, at some point, help each other out,” she said.
The youngsters have embraced the concept.
“I was awesome with no gifts,” Jake said, pointing out that they will still get Christmas presents.
Last year’s combined baseball and princess birthday party at the Maple Park was the tipping point for Brill. Jake and Ella had so many presents they couldn’t keep track of who to send thank you notes to.
“I felt it was hard for the kids to appreciate it,” Brill said. So this year, they’re feeding the hungry instead. On every invitation, they asked for no gifts, just food items.
“Both kids were thrilled with it,” she said.
When she first looked for an organization to donate to, all Brill could find were Superior food shelves. A little Internet digging turned up the Rural Care & Share Food Shelf, which serves clients in the Maple School District. A visit to the site at Peace Lutheran Church in Poplar was an eye-opener for the entire family.
A room was piled high with pallets of food. The stacks were “taller than my mom,” Ella said.
“What happens to all that every month?” Brill asked her children.
“It disappears,” Ella said.
This month alone, the Rural Care & Share Food Shelf served 77 families at the Poplar church and another 45 families picked up food at a satellite site at St. Michael Church in Iron River, according to volunteer Bette Hanson.
The need has been growing, she said.
The children were surprised by the food they saw. There were no chips or candy, just essentials like canned tuna, dry cereal and navy beans.
“There was a lot of peanut butter,” Jake said.
The food shelf even provides an extra birthday bag with a cake mix, candles and balloons to families with a birthday to celebrate that month, he said.
Greg Gullicksrud, pastor of Peace Lutheran, showed the family around the site.
“I think this is a much larger story,” he said of the children’s generosity. “We’re seeing a value shift in our society.”
And Jake and Ella Brill are on the leading edge.
“What’s going to give the most satisfaction to Becky’s kids?” Gullicksrud asked. “A plastic toy like other plastic toys that will pile up in the garage or knowing they helped people who were hungry?”
The food shelf has a steady supply of donations from its 13 member churches and community support, including about two tons of food that was donated during the May postal carrier food drive.
“Even if the food shelf has enough money, it’s more important they teach children to share,” Gullicksrud said. “That’s the important lesson here.”
After months of decorating to turn the garage into a haunted maze, the children are excited to don Halloween costumes, turn on the fog machine and enjoy time with their friends. They are hoping for bad weather – rain, hail or maybe tarantulas falling from the sky.
“The creepier the better,” Jake said.
Along with the precipitation, they expect a deluge of food.
Jake said he was hoping to rake in 15 pounds of food. His mother smiled, saying they are actually hoping for 15 bags.
Because the food shelf serves more than 100 families, Jake and Ella sent out 100 invitations to classmates, teammates and family members. Even if some choose not to attend, Brill hopes they remember the food shelf.
“It’s important for them to realize the need in the area,” she said. “I had no idea so many families used the food shelf.”
“Donate as much time as you can and help people,” he said.
The food shelf distributes food from 9-11 a.m. the third Saturday of each month at Peace Lutheran Church in Poplar, 9523 E. Highway 2, or St. Michael Church in Iron River, 68105 S. George St. Anyone in the school district is welcome to stop by the sites during that time to find out if they qualify.
“I think we could be helping more people than we are,” Hanson said. “The (income) limits are pretty high.”
For more information or to donate food items or funds to the food shelf, contact Peace Lutheran Church at (715) 364-2593.
Read the article: Kids use birthday bash for food drive