By Don Nelson

Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Manger Mall, two seasonal events that count on community generosity to make the holidays more joyous for those in need, are going into high gear the next few weeks to collect money, food and gifts.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors, now in its 35th year, uses a combination of donated foods and funds to put together holiday meal baskets for local families. This year the food will be delivered on Dec. 21, and will include not only the fixings for a holiday meal but also additional staples to tide recipients over a little longer, said organizer Jennifer Elden.

Elden said that the drive is expected to serve 130 to 135 families this year, compared to 102 in 2010. “It’s been going up by about 10 families a year,” she said.

Elden also noted that reductions in the federal food stamp program may have an impact on how many people need assistance.

Last year, Neighbors Helping Neighbors raised about $4,600 to buy food items for holiday baskets. This year, the effort will require about $5,000, Elden said. Most of that will be spent on food at Hank’s Harvest Foods in Twisp and the Red Apple Market in Winthrop.

Food items – non-perishable only – also are being collected at local schools. Students will also make holiday cards for inclusion in the food baskets.

In addition, Okanogan County Fire District No. 6 will pick up food donations left on the porches of homes within the town limits of Winthrop and Twisp on Dec. 12. Just leave a porch light on, Elden said.

To register to receive a food basket from Neighbors Helping Neighbors, local residents from Mazama to Methow are asked to apply at The Cove in Twisp on Thursday (Nov. 21), on Dec. 5 or on Dec. 12. There are no qualifications other than showing up. “If somebody asks, we assume they are asking because they need it,” Elden said.

The baskets will be distributed between 9 a.m. and noon on Dec. 21. Volunteers are needed to sort the food the previous week and package it on delivery day, Elden said. For more information, call 996-8129.

If you are interested in loading the baskets into vehicles, driving and delivering, call 997-6070.

Cash jars for donations, and receptacles for food donations, will be at retail outlets all over the valley.

Manger Mall, the children’s gift component of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, is scheduled for Dec. 14.

Gifts for the program, now in its fourth year, are donated by the community and also purchased by Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

Parents will be able to buy one present and one “soft item” for each child for $1. Stocking stuffers are included, and every child will be entered in drawings for special gifts. Gift wrapping will be provided at no charge. Child care will not be available, and parents are asked to shop without their children present.

Parents must make reservations to go shopping at the Manger Mall by filling out a form with their name and number of children, and the children’s ages and gender. Forms will be available in the public school offices, and at The Cove in Twisp, the Methow Valley Community School in Winthrop, the Independent Learning Center in Twisp, Little Star Montessori School in Winthrop, Master’s Christian School in Twisp, and Room One in Twisp.

The forms must be mailed back by Dec. 6. Tickets for the Manger Mall will be mailed out shortly after that. Parents will be told where to go and given a reservation time.

Donations of toys and handmade items are appreciated. Gifts are especially needed for teenage boys. Gift cards are discouraged. Toys can be deposited in boxes at the Mazama Store, Carlton Store, Mick and Miki’s Red Cedar Bar in Twisp, North Cascades Bank in Twisp, and Winthrop Physical Therapy & Fitness. Toys should be new and in unopened packages.

Manger Mall co-chair Kathryn Eisenhauer said the program served about 120 children last year and expects more this year. “We want to make this a joyous time for them,” she said.

Volunteers are still needed to help with the Manger Mall. To sign up, call Eisenhauer at 997-0695 or email kathryneisenhauer@gmail.com.

Cash donations are needed for both drives. Checks or cash can be deposited at North Cascades bank or mailed to: NHN, P.O. Box 895, Twisp, WA 98856.