by Brandon LaChance
Christmas is known as the “Most magical time of the year.” Unfortunately for some parents, they’re not able to provide gifts for their children, which helps bring the magical part into their Dec. 25, because of multiple reasons.
The main reason being life, where anything can happen. In Odell, Joleen Bolen and Melissa Foster had been through situations like this as children.
When given the chance to operate Odell Christmas Angels, both Bolen and Foster have put smiles on children’s faces every Christmas for at least 15 years by providing gifts raised by the community.
“Melissa and I, with the help of other community members, raise money for families that need that extra help at Christmas time,” said Bolen. “We don’t want any kids to not have gifts to open up at Christmas time.
Melissa and I, as children, were in programs similar to Odell Christmas Angels. We’re trying to give back.
“We have a raffle that we do from Nov. 12 to Dec. 12 when the winning ticket is chosen. It’s $10 a ticket. Whoever wins will receive $500. Some people give it back to the Christmas Angels. When people are purchasing a ticket, some just write Odell Christmas Angels on the ticket. We are putting fliers in all of the local businesses, which all support us. It’s always a race to the finish to make sure we can raise every dollar to ensure that these children have something for Christmas. They’re our angels and they deserve Christmas gifts.”
The program also receives funds from Mary Grundler, who donates all of her bake sale funds at the annual Holiday Vendor Show in Odell. This year’s second annual show will be held Nov. 19.
Helping Hands in Pontiac chooses a fundraising organization each week during the holiday season where it will donate their sales and donations. During the week chosen for Odell Christmas Angels, $700 was raised.
Others put funds directly into the Odell Christmas Angels bank account, so they can donate anonymously.
“Since Covid-19, it seems like everyone has stepped up because they know it’s bad. With Covid still around and inflation, everyone is doing just enough to get us to where we need to be to be successful for the year,” Bolen said. “Melissa and I are usually the ones who do the shopping. We power shop for up to 70-80 kids. We try to keep the gifts for each kid around the same price point, but there isn’t a definitive number. It all depends on how much we raise.
“Last year, when I had Covid and Melissa broke her foot and her ankle, the Odell Grade School helped last year and did the shopping. Everyone pitches in for the cause.”
Odell Christmas Angels was originally started by the Odell Lions Club. When the club disbanded, Foster wanted to continue bringing Christmas cheer and gifts to any family who needed it, so she found a way for the program to stay alive.
Foster and Bolen run the operations of shopping and corralling packages for each family, which have seen as many as 70-80 each Christmas in the last five years, while the Knights of Columbus is the overseer who corresponds with Foster and Bolen to make sure the program is running smoothly and every child is accounted for. “We don’t wrap the gifts. Some families will adopt a family to shop for.
Joleen and I will power shop and get all of the shopping on our list in one day,” Foster said. “We invite the parents to come with us. It’s up to them if they want to or not. We’ll spend the day in Bloomington and shop for all of the kids.
“We have every family on its own piece of paper so we can do family by family. We bag them and then we label them by family. In recent years, we’ve really reached out to the community to get more volunteers. Now, there is a lot more community involvement.”
Foster and Bolen shop for clothes, while toys given as gifts for children up to 11 years old are donated by Toys for Tots. Odell Christmas Angels does shop outside of clothing stores, to make sure high school students in the families receive cool, more favorable gifts as well.
“Really the whole community helps with Odell Christmas Angels. I’ve always had a love for kids. It’s giving back to our community,” Foster said. “Maybe I can’t financially afford to buy gifts for all of these families, but this gives me an opportunity to give back. “It’s nice to be able to help provide for a kid and know they have something to open under the Christmas tree on Christmas. It’s really a giant community project because everyone helps and we couldn’t do it without the help and support of the community. “I think it means a lot. It’s special.
If you drive into Odell off of Rt. 66, the sign says, ‘Welcome to Odell, a small town with a big heart, where everybody is somebody.’
Odell Christmas Angels just reiterates the sign. Our community is amazing. Anytime there is a need, we’re all there. It just goes to show that Odell really is a special community.”