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Salvation Army distributes Christmas gifts for children, needs food shelf items

Cloquet High School senior class officers Mikayla Kielty (from left), Jessie Battistini, Kelsey Anderson and Landen Straub carry shopping bags full of gifts into the Cloquet Armory Tuesday morning to donate to the Salvation Army's Christmas gift program. The Senior Executive Board challenged students to raise $1,000 for charity this year and they beat their goal by at least $40. Jana Peterson/

On Wednesday morning, the parking lot at the Cloquet Armory was packed for the Salvation Army's annual Christmas distribution. Inside, the noise level never went above a quiet murmur, as people toured the gift tables with a volunteer "shopper," who helped them select three gifts each for the children on their list.

It was a far cry from the frenzied shopping sights that greeted bargain hunters on the day known as "Black Friday" that, for some, actually started at stores on Thanksgiving Day this year.

Although most of the tables were heaped with toys and other gift items for young people as well as blankets, pillows and pillow cases and lots of hats and mittens donated by Carlton County churches, some of the veteran volunteers were worried there wouldn't be enough for all 300 families on the list.

"We usually have stuff under the tables because there's so much," said Roxanne Laughlin, who works at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, noting that staff at the store had a raffle to raise money to buy movie passes for the kids. "Now the tables aren't even full."

Jacki Meyer, who is the administrator of social services with the local Salvation Army, said the charity had increased the number of families it accepted for the Christmas distribution from 250 to 300. She was optimistic Wednesday morning, in large part because they'd had an influx of gift cards and other donations at the last minute.

Among those were presents purchased by the Cloquet High School Senior Executive Board with $1,040 raised by the student body.

"We challenged the school to raise $1,000, because we'd never gotten more than $500 in the past," said Jessie Battistini.

"Last year we did St. Jude's [Children's Hospital] and it was so difficult," added Kelsey Anderson. "This year we decided to do something more simple and local."

The school met its challenge Friday, and members of the Executive Board went shopping Tuesday night.

"We were done in, like, 10 minutes," said Mikayla Kielty, explaining that the group bought gift items for ages newborn through 18 years old. "But we had a blast."

Meyer and Salvation Army Captain Ruth Gibbons greeted the high school seniors with effusive thanks and the volunteers got to work quickly separating the items and carrying them out to the different tables.

It's a very busy season for the Salvation Army.

The previous Friday, Meyer and other volunteers had distributed black plastic garbage bags filled with gifts to the 133 families who were adopted by local businesses, church groups, organizations and individuals.

Meyer praised all the good people of Carlton County who go the extra mile - donating gifts, ringing bells, collecting canned goods and more - to help those who are less fortunate. She said more and more people keep asking for help from the Salvation Army and other area charities.

"These are hard times," she said, noting that 177 other families who had applied didn't get adopted. "We were real low this year. But Sappi gave us $1,000 to go shopping and the community stepped up. Churches and organizations that already gave came back and donated more for the teenagers," she said, explaining that the teen and "tween" age groups didn't get as many donations initially. "We had six gift cards last week and now this whole book is full of cards."

The book she pointed to was filled with pages of gift cards, mostly two or three to a page, including cards for Premiere Theatres, Great Clips, Subway, Tranquility Salon, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, MacDonald's and more.

"We needed almost 1,500 toys [and other gift items] and I believe we made it," she said. "You know, the Lord works in mysterious ways. When we give it all to help, it comes back tenfold."