Holmes Christmas Club helps Wright Co. residents

CLARION – Dozens of volunteers descended to Chappy’s on Main, South Main Street in Clarion to make up nearly 1,000 fruit baskets on Dec. 12. The baskets include oranges, apples, bananas, grapefruit, pears with a bag of salted-in-the-shell peanuts and wrapped Tootsie Rolls. The annual event is part of the efforts of Holmes Christmas Club and has taken place each year since 1943.

Beth Menges, who is the second generation volunteering with the club, is one of those volunteers; she also serves on the club’s board of directors.

“Holmes Christmas Club just sort of happened originally,” she said. Her father and mother, Marion and Betty Robinson, were one of nearly a dozen couples when the club began.

This year as the club celebrates its 70th anniversary, is the first year that Betty Robinson hasn’t been part of the efforts; she was the last survivor of the original group all those years ago.

According to Menges, Holmes, an unincorporated small town northwest of Clarion, had a tavern where a group of men, farmers and retirees, used to go daily to play cards.

“One of the farmers won a rifle in a raffle,” she said. “He thought they would auction it off and use the proceeds to have a party.” But plans changed when the small band of men heard of a local barber, who had broken his leg, was having money problems, and the family (consisting of a wife and three small girls) wouldn’t be having a Christmas. The rifle, and other donated items were auctioned off. The family was given a nice Christmas.

“They had so much fun in 1943,” said Menges, “they decided to do it again the next year. And the tradition has just continued.”

The club hosts an auction each November, the Monday before Thanksgiving. When the Holmes business closed more than 10 years ago, they moved to Chappy’s.

“People, families, clubs, organizations, and businesses start bringing things into be auctioned off,” said Menges. “Each year the over-three-hour auction brings in $20,000 to $25,000. This year was the largest auction in the club’s history.”

Fruit is purchased. Lists are made. Baskets are assembled. Then the baskets are delivered to retirement homes, care centers, and individual homes across Wright County.

“People do not need to be old nor sick to get a basket. We give fruit baskets because we want to spread Christmas cheer and everyone needs a gift at Christmas,” said Menges.

Older folks might be the focus, but families in crises or those with unwanted change in the past year might be on the list.

While the annual auction and the multiple fruit basket deliveries are the main focus annually, the efforts only take a small portion of the money which has been earned.

“We use our funds to help others in the county throughout the year with a need or some other disaster,” said Menges. Checks are in the mail now to all 45 churches in Wright County; each minister/administrative board receives $50 with a note from Holmes Christmas Club telling them “to help make one family in their congregation have a Merry Christmas.”

Then their efforts read like a laundry list: two $500 scholarship to each of the four county high schools at graduation time, money for county public health work as well as Relay for Life, money for annual Easter Egg Hunts in all the communities of Wright County and help with swimming pool passes in the summer.

“We have gotten the reputation as the ‘go-to’ group with Wright County,” said Menges.

“By word-of-mouth, we learn of people who need assistance going to and from doctor appointments, so we provide gas cards. Sometimes we help people struggling with medical or electrical bills through no fault of their own.” The board learns of the need and determines if, and how much, they might help.

“Holmes Christmas Club only works through the generosity of Wright County residents,” said Menges. “This is a good opportunity to thank each and every one for all of their donations and support in so many ways. We could never have pulled this off for so many years without everyone working together to make it work.”