Brainerd Family YMCA youth get in the Christmas spirit of giving

School-age children in the nonprofit's day care make blankets, organize warm clothing collection drive and help with food pantry.

Avery Erickson (left) works on making a felt blanket while Anika Bautch teaches her brother how to tie the knots needed to complete the blanket's edge Friday, Dec. 18, at the Brainerd Family YMCA. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Avery Erickson and Alaina Donahue are learning it’s better to give than to receive this Christmas season.

The 8-year-olds from Brainerd are in the Brainerd Family YMCA's social distance learning support program. Children in the Y’s day care are making fleece blankets and more to give to the Brainerd Police Department during Christmas week to hand out to those in need.

“We’re just trying to help the community, so everybody’s together,” Avery Erickson said.

The youths will also work in the coming days to establish a food pantry and clothing giveaway outside the nonprofit to help those less fortunate.

“I like to help people because then after they feel happy, you feel good, too,” Donahue said.


Avery Erickson said, “The community can stop here and if they are cold, they can get warm here. And if they’re a little bit hungry, they can grab some food in the food pantry.”

Jessica Erickson is the youth program director at the Brainerd Family YMCA, a Christian-based nonprofit for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

“When we started talking about the holidays, kids can get so focused sometimes on what they’re going to get — presents and things like that — and so we really wanted to focus with the kids on how we can give back to the community,” Jessica Erickson said.

Jessica Erickson said it was important for youths to learn that Christmas is not solely about receiving but also giving.

“And when you start doing that with youth, they really love it. They get so involved in it, they can feel they have that sense of empathy that can sometimes be kind of tough to understand for adults as they get older and experience life,” Jessica Erickson said.

Youth Program Director Jessica Erickson (left), Jackson Ray, Avery Erickson and Anika Bautch put together a felt blanket Friday, Dec. 18, at the Brainerd Family YMCA. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch


According to Feeding America, 34 million people last year lived in poverty in America, and for a family of four, that means earning just $25,000 per year.

“When kids hear stories about people not having homes or not being able to give their kids Christmas presents or being warm and those basic needs met, you can really see their heartstrings get so attached to it, and they want to fix it and they want to help it,” Jessica Erickson said.

The blanket-making, for example, is intended to instill a sense of philanthropy in the children, especially during this holiday season, according to Brainerd Family YMCA CEO Shane Riffle.

“Our staff is just always looking for ways to help develop the spirit of giving back and values and philanthropy within the kids part of the whole social-emotional learning,” Riffle said.

The Brainerd Family YMCA will also be collecting new or gently used hats, scarves and mittens at its Oak Street location to make available to those in need, and the children are organizing the collection and distribution. The apparel will be pinned to a clothesline outside the Y for the taking.

“They’ll sort them, organize them and get them posted, get them put on a rope, and we’ll have some signage up there we’re gonna have the kids make, but they will take care of it every day,” Riffle said of the school-aged children.

Jessica Erickson said, “It’s about giving back to your community and the people that live in it and especially during a pandemic to be able to do that.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .
I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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