Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Milwaukee North Sunrise Rotary Club's 'Christmas with Dignity' program

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Milwaukee North Sunrise Rotary Club is making sure a dozen families have a merry Christmas this year. Four years ago, they started the “Christmas with Dignity” program. Parents pay pennies on the dollar for gifts they’ve picked out for their kids. That money, in turn, is donated to charities to help others.

Organizers said it’s a circle of giving and receiving that reminds everyone what this time of year is all about.

Diane Beckley Milner is the rotary club’s incoming president. She showed us the huge plastic tubs they had packed with toys, games, and clothes.

“What child doesn't like Legos,” she asked, pulling a set out of the box.

The clothes are practical and adorable.

“How cute is that? This one has the little ears,” she said, holding up a fuzzy hoodie. “That is so cute.”

The tubs contain everything needed to make a child’s Christmas morning merry and bright.

“We give them a bag of everything they need, so it's Christmas in a box, for sure,” Beckley Milner said.

They even include the wrapping paper, tape and bows.

“We had families that told us they had never wrapped a present in their life,” she said. “So, this was fun for them. This gave them an idea of what Christmas really can be about.”

Beckley Milner said four years ago, the club members would drop presents off at recipients' homes.

“There wasn't a whole lot of dignity in that,” she said. “You open the door, you get a bag full of stuff for your kids, and your kids see that you got it from somewhere else.”

Project Chair David Carter said that idea of dignity really stuck with them.

“The idea being we wanted to have the parents more engaged in the process,” he explained.

So now, the parents pick up the presents and they also make a donation to one of three charities the rotary club has selected.

“It means a lot, and I love helping others,” said Elena Hess as she picked up her gifts.

Beckley Milner calls it a "hand up" instead of a "hand out."

“For instance, if they bought $300 worth of toys, they'd pay $30,” she said. “This way it gives us an opportunity to help the families, but also giving the families the dignity of knowing that they provide Christmas for themselves.”

The rotary club selected 12 families to help this year, a process they started in October. The parents give them input on what their children need and want.

“My daughters are in gymnastics, and my son is into basketball. So, I got things that will kind of help exercise those skills,” said Marvell Lawrunce, a father of four.

He said with the pandemic, this year has been particularly difficult, and the “Christmas with Dignity” program helps a lot.

“It's a good feeling, just to know that there are individuals out there to help,” he said. “That defines a community. Everybody coming together to support.”

Hess has two children. She picked up their gifts on her way to work in Oak Creek.

“Anything Minnie Mouse for my 2-year-old, and then for my 9-month-old, I said anything that lights up because she likes to smack things,” she said with a laugh.

She lost her job earlier this year, and is grateful to have found another, but she said it’s still been tough.

“Just be grateful for anything that you're given because you never know when you get a blessing like this,” Hess said.

Rotary president Gregory Williams spent the morning loading presents into the parents’ cars.

“The families feel like they're given that ray of hope,” Williams said. “They know that, ok, there are people out here who really want to make a difference.”

They’re all part of the spirit of giving and receiving.

“It just give us a sense of making sure that the joy of Christmas is spread far and wide,” Beckley Milner said.

Parents are helping themselves and helping others, all excited to see their children's faces on Christmas morning.

“They're going to be extremely happy. Yep, they'll be extremely happy,” Lawrunce said with a smile.

The money donated by the parents will go to three charities: Repairers of the Breach, Blanket of Love and Polio Plus. For more information on the Milwaukee North Sunrise Rotary Club, click here.

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