‘Christmases here are a lot merrier’

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Sally Schneider and Bart Knight pose with just a portion of the gifts donated through Pocket City Pub’s giving tree. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

“It always blows my mind how generous people are,” said Great River Care Center Activity Director Debbie Johnson. “They go above and beyond.” Here, Johnson places a newly-received hat on resident Lorraine Ayers’ head.

For fourth year, Pocket City Pub patrons purchase gifts for care center residents

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The “little bar with a big heart” has done it again. For the fourth year in a row, Christmas was a bit brighter for residents at McGregor’s Great River Care Center thanks to the patrons of Pocket City Pub.

Since 2016, the downtown McGregor establishment has sponsored a “giving tree,” anonymously connecting patrons with care center residents for whom they can buy Christmas gifts.

Owner Bart Knight said tags were put on the tree before Thanksgiving this year, each one noting a resident’s gender and a short list of Christmas wishes. Requests ranged from candy and coloring books to blankets and clothing.

“The CNAs help find out what the people want,” said Sally Schneider, a care center employee and Pocket City Pub bartender, who organized the project.

Patrons could select a tag off the tree and purchase the presents, returning them in time to be distributed on Christmas Eve.

There were 43 tags from Great River Care Center this year. Pocket City’s generosity didn’t end there, though. For the first time ever, the bar decided to collect gifts for Elkader Care Center residents too, adding another 59 tags to the tree.

“The customers are great. We just told them we had the tags here and they left the tree quicker than they ever have,” commented Knight. “Lots of customers took multiple tags. Two different people even gave $100 just to shop.”

The First Congregational Church of McGregor also offered to donate a pair of socks to each gift.

Schneider said people came from not just McGregor, but around the area, to participate.

“It makes people feel good to do this,” she remarked. “Some people were sad because the tags were all gone,” by the time they made it in to Pocket City.

Schneider is proud her idea, which spawned from a similar project she’d seen done at a facility in Minnesota, has taken off so well. Amid the programs for kids, the community’s elderly population is sometimes forgotten.

“Some people there don’t have family,” she said. “And even if they do, it doesn’t matter. Everybody gets something.”

Great River Care Center Activity Director Debbie Johnson said, in the past, staff would adopt residents around the holidays, assuring they received a gift. 

“We still do,” she added, “but there’s only so much the staff can do.”

The giving tree has eased the burden, enriching both the givers and receivers in the process.

“It always blows my mind how generous people are,” Johnson said. “They go above and beyond.”

Santa handed out the gifts Christmas Eve day, and staff and family members helped residents open the colorful boxes and bags. The special event makes the building even more festive.

“Since they started doing this, the whole atmosphere has changed,” said Johnson. “Christmases here are a lot merrier.”

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