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Giving beyond village borders

With a handful of wish lists, members of the Horses 'R' Us 4-H club played Santa this year. Using donated funds, they purchased gifts for 39 children in crisis through Kids in Nebagamon.

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Carol Mallegni, left, and Michele Hughes fill boxes for distribution through the Kids in Nebagamon to lend a hand for the holidays. (Maria Lockwood/mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)

With a handful of wish lists, members of the Horses ‘R’ Us 4-H club played Santa this year. Using donated funds, they purchased gifts for 39 children in crisis through Kids in Nebagamon.

"I think it’s good they learn that there are other kids in need," said leader Sonya Blair. No names were given, but the 4-H club members realized that some of the children they shopped for are their own classmates.

"That comes as a surprise," Blair said.

So do the lists themselves. Instead of electronics and toys, all these kids want for Christmas are gloves, socks, underwear and boots.

"So they can fit in at school," said Michele Hughes, KIN treasurer.

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The nonprofit organization has spread far beyond its namesake community, offering help to about 200 children a year throughout the School District of Maple. Holiday giving is KIN’s biggest project. This year, 98 children in 42 families from Iron River and Maple to South Range were provided with holiday presents and a family food basket.

"A lot of people live on the edge," Hughes said. "For them, Christmas is not a happy time."

Fires, job loss, illness and other circumstances have left these families in crises. KIN offers a boost aimed at enabling them to improve their circumstances. Of the 42 families receiving holiday help this year, only one was on KIN’s Christmas list last year.

"We fill an immediate need," said founding member Kay Coletta. KIN members also serve as a liaison, referring families to local agencies or programs that could assist them.

KIN was founded in 1992 as a memorial to Margaret and Wally Urbaniak of Lake Nebagamon. It’s goal was to aid children in the area. A mother with eight children received the first gift basket that year. That mother has gone on to earn a college degree, two of her children serve in the military and two are college graduates themselves, Coletta said. The family continues to pay it forward annually as KIN volunteers.

In addition to the Christmas giving, KIN offers a helping hand year-round. If a family is in need of a washing machine, dental care, car repair or other help, Coletta sends an email to a network of volunteers. Within 24 hours, she said, the request is filled.

"Sometimes it’s real little, sometimes it’s real big," said KIN president Carol Mallegni.

The organization is part of the community support web available to rural families.

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"They get help from other things, but $500 from the Knights of Columbus doesn’t go very far," Hughes said.

"Even what KIN gives doesn’t go very far," said Mallegni, the Urbaniaks’ daughter.

"But if you put it all together …" Hughes said.

The kid-focused organization gathers the funds and food for holiday giving each year. Local grocery stores, businesses and individuals stepped forward to brighten the holidays for children this year.

"The need is great," Mallegni said, but it was met because "people out here open their hearts and pocketbooks to others."

Three years ago, KIN members extended the program’s reach to the entire Maple School District. Mallegni said her parents would be proud of how far KIN has spread.

"They’re smiling," she said

The new focus has members mulling a name change. Possibilities include Kids in Need, Kids in Northwestern or Kids in the North.

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"We are servicing now many families in iron River, Poplar, Maple, Brule, if you go to Northwestern you’re eligible," Mallegni said. "We want to start fund raising in those communities."

Currently, funds come from a number of fundraisers in Lake Nebagamon, including a craft fair, golf outing and the annual Darren Harvey Memorial Auction. This year the auction raised more than $10,000 for KIN.

Blair said her 4-H club members learned a lot when they stepped into Santa’s shoes. They practiced wrapping presents, learned to stay within a budget and found out shopping could be fun. And they focused on making Christmas merry for others instead of themselves.

"They were happy to shop for the necessities," Blair said, but they worked hard to add in a few toys for each name on the list.

Donations to KIN can be sent to Michele Hughes, c/o KIN, P.O. Box 396, Lake Nebagamon, WI, 54849.

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Members of Horses ‘R’ Us 4-H club play Santa this year by purchasing gifts for 39 children in crisis through Kids in Nebagamon (Submitted photo)

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTY
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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