Wishing Tree: Making Christmas brighter for area families
Cars began lining up near the CC Communications building and maintenance location on South Maine Street half an hour before toys and clothes were to be distributed as part of the annual Wishing Tree program.
Christmas was five days away and the big day for many of the county’s children was fast approaching.
Once the call went out for families to fill out eligibility forms and for a small group of dedicated volunteers to start shopping for clothes and toys, the Wish Tree program was on its way to making Christmas the happiest the young people.
Dawn Ballard, a member of the CC Association of Independent Telecommunications Pioneers, said 45 families that included 141 children received large black bags filled with a variety of items. Ballard, a Wishing Tree volunteer for 26 years, said the program helped 130 children last year.
“The community has been doing this for a long time,” she said, pointing to the overall involvement. “The hospital received 30 children distributed in their departments. The quilters made 60 quilts.”
When volunteers receive cash donations, they take the money and buy items at local stores.
Ballard said Hearts of Gold quilters are phenomenal for the time they put into making quality quilts. She cited community outreach when it comes to people donating items, and groups such as Toys for Tots doing their part with volunteers standing in front of Walmart with their popular Marine Corps truck.
Within the past three weeks, local law enforcement spent a Sunday in front of Walmart collecting food for the food pantry outside of Egypt. Other service organizations such as the Fallon Rotary Club collected items for the elderly.
Ballard has seen many changes over the years since she began volunteering. Venues have moved from downtown locations at the Nevada Army National Guard to a drive-thru lane at the fairgrounds during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
The advancement of toys has also affected Ballard.
“It’s kind of kept me up to date with the toys and technology out there,” she added.
Another volunteer who has been helping for several decades is Dave Tilley, a senior sales engineer with CC Communications. He said this is probably his last year volunteering. On Jan. 1, he retires from CC Communications, and he and his wife Debbie, who also volunteered with the Wishing Tree program in previous years, may want to spend their winters in a warmer climate.
Tilley recalls some of the more unusual moments of volunteering for the Wishing Tree, such as helping to collect 23 riding horses donated by Big R or carrying 50 bicycles up the steps at Fallon Fraternal Hall & Community Center on South Maine Street.
“It has been a pleasure to help families in need from all walks of life … very satisfying,” he said.
Although volunteers spend countless hours behind the scenes to make the Wishing Tree a success, those who received the toys and clothes expressed their appreciation.
Santa Claus (Dave Baumbach) welcomed many of the parents who received the toys and gave only their names. Baumbach has enjoyed his role as Santa Claus for 20 years.
Shannon, who has three daughters, said this is the first year she has received toys and clothes.
“The economy is tough,” she said, adding that it is difficult for a family to meet their monthly obligations.
Likewise, Grace, who has daughters aged 15 and 8 and a son aged 6, also said the economy has been tighter than last year.
“Everything is so expensive now,” she said.
Still, Grace said she appreciates the community and volunteers helping others.
Christine also has three children: daughters aged 10 and 20 months and a son aged 7.
“This is a great program and really helpful,” she said. “It has been tough. I had some health problems and became a full-time mother.”
Christine credits the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe for her help.
“They’ve been amazing,” she added.
The Wishing Tree program begins accepting applications in August to determine eligibility. At the beginning of October, there is a call for families to adopt.