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Jingle Bells in 60th year

The Jingle Bells telethon is a well recognized fund raiser, held each winter in Alexandria and hosted by the Alexandria Jaycees.  While this one-of-a-kind event takes place just one weekend out of the year, its impact on the surrounding communities lasts the entire year round.  The fund raiser takes place over a weekend in December each year and includes a telethon on Saturday and a day of delivering food baskets and gifts on Sunday.     This year, Jingle Bells is celebrating its 60th anniversary, a difficult feat for any fund raising event.     The first 10 years of the telethon’s life, the event was broadcasted on KXRA radio. It wasn’t until 1958 that it made the move to television. As the event has evolved, it has continued to outgrow venues. The Jaycees have held it at the AAAA Theater, the Alexandria television station, and even the Central High auditorium.  For the last several years, the Jaycees have found a home for Jingle Bells at the Lake Geneva Christian Center.      The planning for this annual event starts nearly a year ahead of time.  The Jaycees reserve the Lake Geneva Christian Center and the warehouse space they need in January, to ensure they don’t miss out on their chosen dates.  From there, the planning seems to be a whirlwind, from organizing volunteers to arranging for entertainment.         In the early years of Jingle Bells, the entertainment provided on the telethon was more impromptu and centered around fund raising. The Jaycees laugh as they recall some of the early methods of raising money.       “The people organizing this event in the early years would say things on air like ‘If someone gives $20 right now we’ll go wake up the Douglas County Sheriff and have him sing Jingle Bells to you!’  Now it’s much more organized,” shares Joe Korkowski, Jaycee member and active volunteer.     The group now auditions nearly 80 performers each year, and books up to 40 acts for the telethon.  The acts can be professional or amateur, and range from martial arts demonstrations to barbershop quartets; from a 102-year old piano player to basketball handlers like the Alexandria Aces.  There is something for everyone.     While many community members watch or tune in to the telethon for the entertainment, the ultimate goal is, as always, to raise funds.  The money raised by Jingle Bells is carefully used to help families in need, particularly in this difficult time of year.           “Over 1,000 families benefit from Jingle Bells.  The money raised covers the expense of food baskets, which are delivered to our list of recipients the day after the fund raiser,” said Kathy Schlosser, Jaycee and Jingle Bells co-chair.  “If we are lucky enough to have money left after purchasing the food baskets, it is spent one of two ways.  First, some is donated to local food shelves in an effort to further support local families.  The rest goes into our hardship fund.”     The hardship fund, a Jingle Bells effort not as widely recognized, offers assistance to local families throughout the year who come upon hard times.       “Many times during the year, we are made aware of families who need a helping hand.  When we have money available, we always try to help,” Kathy said.  “We know there are so many people out there hurting and in need of assistance, and we try to affect as many of those families as we can.”     The hardships funds have been donated to a wide variety of circumstances, including a family whose child was battling cancer and who was being overwhelmed by medical bills.  There is always a need, and the funds frequently run out before the year come to a close.     The Alexandria Jaycees have a lot to be proud of, but most importantly is the long-term effects of their charitable giving on the Alexandria community.  “There are frequently individuals whose families have benefited from Jingle Bells, who return once they’re back on their feet to help others,” Wade Senger, another committee member describes.  Seeing the impact their food baskets and donations make is an extraordinary opportunity, but knowing that those people see the value in the program and return to help is an enormous achievement.     “So often people are quick to criticize the state of the world, and how selfish some people have become.  But then you show up the weekend of Jingle Bells and there are people packing in to the warehouse to help assemble and deliver baskets,” said Joe with a laugh.  “Last year on the day scheduled to deliver baskets the weather was awful; it was a full-on blizzard.  We thought about postponing our deliveries.  But we had dozens of volunteers insisting we deliver, saying ‘This is why we have four-wheel drive!’  It was pretty incredible.”     As Kathy, Wade and Joe sit together and discuss the Jingle Bells event, their pride is evident and well deserved.  The work of these three and the entire Alexandria Jaycees group is extraordinary.  And the impact they are having on the lives on families in our area is immeasurable.     This year, in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of Jingle Bells, many former hosts and participants are returning to make appearances, including Jerry VanKempen, who hosted the fund raiser for nearly 30 years.  But even in the midst of celebration, the need for this fund raiser is as evident as ever.  The past year has been hard on many families, and often they just need a little help to get back on their feet.  It is with this in mind that the Jaycees hope that this year people still find a way to give in one way or another.  Every contribution helps, big or small.     The Jingle Bells telethon will be held Saturday, Dec. 12.

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