GREENVILLE – The Greenville Optimist Club has an annual fund that helps support local organizations to provide Christmas dinner to those in need.
The Samaritan Fund was established for the Optimist Club to collect money from Thanksgiving to Christmas and distribute it to local organizations, such as food pantries, that help provide the dinners. The Optimist Club has collected about $3,000 per year and members hope to beat that amount this year.
John Thorlund, an Optimist Club member, said the amount raised has been falling over the years. The club doesn’t keep any of the donations.
“There are no administration fees or anything like that,” Thorlund said.
The fund dates back about 55 years. Stan and Marian Kemp used to buy hats and mittens for children who did not have any in the late 1950s.
After a while, people started to give the Kemps money to help purchase these items for the children.
The Kemps formed the Samaritan Fund in the early 1960s. The Optimist Club took over the fund in the late 1960s because it was becoming too big to handle.
From there, club members gathered the items and put them into gift baskets. Thorlund said people would have to apply to receive a basket.
Food pantries were on the rise in the area around that time in the 1990s. Optimist Club members realized some people were receiving help from more than one organization while others were being missed.
“That is not how we wanted it to work,” Thorlund said.
Now the Optimist Club collects the money and distributes it to organizations to buy the food needed for Christmas dinners.
The Greenville Ecumenical Food Mission formed in 1994 and receives some of the funds to make Christmas dinner baskets each year.
“At this time of year, we need more help to give to those in need,” said Nancy Lamere, food mission chairwoman.
She said November and December are the busiest months of the year. By receiving a portion of the Samaritan Fund, the food mission is able to help more people.
Lamere said they are able to give baskets to at least 150 families because of the funds.
Donations to the Greenville Optimist Club for the Samaritan Fund can be sent to PO Box 802, Greenville, MI, 48838.