The holiday season can be a very stressful time for families, especially those that are under financial strain or dealing with illness. To combat this, the American Legion Riders Post #98 have made it their mission to make the season bright and filled with good cheer for families that are in need.
For four years, the Legion Riders have been taking part in the Cavalier County Social Services Christmas Cheer program. The money that is raised all year long goes towards the efforts made at Christmas to bring gifts to families through the Christmas Cheer program. This year, the Legion Riders helped six families in the area.
“We want every child to have a great Christmas, and if we can help a family that might not have the means to have a great Christmas, it is a win for us. We can’t help everyone, but this is a good start,” Chapter Secretary Michele Anderson said.
The Legion Riders were able to allocate $3,000 to the Christmas Cheer program this year. That is about $150 per person to utilize for six families. Cavalier County Social Services provides the Legion Riders with the necessary information regarding the family dynamics, such as how many adults and how many children and their ages. On the wish list from each family, they include what they may need and what they might want for Christmas.
“It is so humbling to read the list each year. The parents ask for things like blankets and laundry soap, nothing extravagant. The children ask for small items like just a football or a blanket to cover up while sitting on the couch,” Anderson shared.
Chapter President Jeremy Schuler explained that the shoppers for the presents do not know the families and that every effort is made by the Legion Riders to shop locally for what was on the lists. Schuler explained that because so much of the money donated to the group comes from locals and local businesses, they buy what they can. A lot of the things wished for can not be purchased locally, however.
“We want to keep everything as local as possible, but obviously we don’t have the resources here in town for everything,” Schuler said.
Shopping for six families and nearly 20 people was left up to Schuler and Anderson. To make it easier, one location was chosen - the Devils Lake Walmart. The two intrepid shoppers spent a staggering nine hours walking the aisles in search of the perfect gifts for perfect strangers in need.
“We started shopping about 10:30 a.m. and didn’t finish until about 8:30 p.m., only taking a break because we were getting a little hangry,” Anderson shared.
The manager on duty assisted the two by holding the carts, once filled, for each family. Once the lists had been filled and checked over, there were six full shopping carts waiting to be checked out. The manager, Tami, opened up a lane just for them and then proceeded to help get everything rung up and sorted. This alone took nearly an hour.
“We got our own check out lane; she was fantastic. I would run the stuff through, and she would bag it. I would remove all the hangers for her because it took over an hour to check out. Then Michele would write like “2” so that we knew these bags were all family number 2. So that’s how we kept it all separated,” Schuler shared.
Loading up so much merchandise, Schuler’s pick up bed was filled along with the back seat. The unloading of the gifts didn’t occur until the next day at the American Legion hall where, thankfully, more than just Anderson and Schuler were present. The gifts were all organized by family and then Schuler organized the gifts so each person within the family would have their gift wrapped for them.
“So everything was just ‘boom, boom, boom’. You couldn’t just come in and start wrapping cause you don’t know where it goes,” Schuler said.
For next year, Schuler said hopefully things will be a little easier with more people assisting in the shopping. The goal is to have three teams of two to divvy up the gift lists. Currently, the Legion Riders number sit at 24 members. The group, as a whole, is composed of people who like to ride motorcycles and also help area youth.
“Our main focus is on children and youth in the community. We wanted to do something just for the kids,” Anderson said. “We have a great group of riders that come to meetings and events with great ideas and big hearts.”
This year, one of those ideas showcases just how big their hearts are. The three families with children facing medical battles: the Andersons, the Pengillys, and the Restad/Kroms were the beneficiaries of a great idea.
Schuler explained that at a meeting in November, a member proposed an idea of giving something like a Make-A-Wish trip to the three kids with medical problems.
“He said what if we were to put together some kind of package where they could go spend a weekend at a motel and just have nothing to worry about - that way it’s something the kids can remember,” Schuler recalled.
He met with the general manager of the Canad Inn of Grand Forks, and together the two came up with a plan. The Legion Riders had a budget of $1,000 for each family to have a two night stay within a theme room. Known for its water park, they also wanted to include passes. Eating at the establishments within the building was also a must.
“We don’t want them to have to worry about money, and we want to take care of all the kids in the pool. So we ran the numbers for what we could do for a $1,000,” Schuler said.
The general manager that Schuler worked with had a better idea of how the money could be spent. The Canad Inn donated a large portion of the package with the Legion matching it with a $700 gift card to the building eateries and what not.
“Canad Inn was amazing to work with,” Schuler shared.
The next step was presenting the weekend get-away to the families. Schuler and others met with each family. Anderson shared that the looks on the kids’ faces was wonderful to witness when Schuler sat on the floor, talked right to them and told them that they get to go have some fun when they are feeling better.
“I found it just totally rewarding as far as to bring yourself happiness. Just to see those three families’ smiles, we can only imagine what those other 19 look like,” Schuler said.
“We would never imagine where this pot of money would grow to and how many families we would help- how the community comes together and helps people. It’s sad there is the need out there, but, boy, if we can help.“
American Legion Riders Post #98 was adopted by the American Legion in 2012. The main focus for the group is children and youth, which is one of the pillars of the American Legion. The Christmas Cheer program is a primary effort. The group also offers a $250 scholarship to a Cavalier County graduating senior with the hopes of increasing the number of scholarships in the future.
“We also work with veterans in crisis,” Anderson shared.
The American Legion Riders is not a motorcycle club. The group is a committee formed under the American Legion. As such, the group falls under American Legion guidelines and regulations and often works in conjunction with the American Legion.
American Legion Riders Post #98 will be holding their annual membership drive on Saturday, January 4, 2020, at 4 p.m. at the Langdon American Legion. The group encourages anyone who loves to ride to join. Eligibility must be met as Legion Riders must be either a member of the American Legion, a member of the Legion Auxiliary or the Sons of the American Legion.