Wendy Reuer, Published December 21 2013
The Joy Project aims to deliver meals, presents
The grim thought of a holiday without a family meal or presents stuck with her, and she decided there was something she could do instead of just thinking about it.
“There are families that live in these little rooms, and I thought, what can I do to help them have a nice Christmas,” Bengtson-Lorerzel said.
The Moorhead resident reached out to friends and family in an effort to serve Christmas meals to anyone in temporary housing. Within weeks, her idea morphed into the Joy Project, which will deliver hundreds of meals and presents to folks at two local hotels, both Ronald McDonald homes, and other temporary housing facilities in the metro area.
Bengtson-Lorerzel contacted the owner of the Grand Inn in Fargo and Moorhead and was able to coordinate a large buffet meal at each hotel for residents on Christmas Eve.
“It ended up working out a lot easier than trying to get individual meals to every single room,” she said.
Meals will also be delivered to Stepping Stones Resource Center, Gladys Ray Shelter and the Ronald McDonald House North, all in Fargo, on Christmas Eve.
Then, on Christmas Day, meals will be served at the Dorothy Day House in Moorhead and Ronald McDonald House South in Fargo.
“We have volunteers doing all the cooking at home to bring in big meals,” Bengtson-Lorerzel said.
Jill Christopher, Ronald McDonald House executive director, said the 12 families in the two houses – which provide shelter to families of children receiving medical care in Fargo – are excited about the Joy Project this Christmas.
“To have someone come in and take the time away from their holiday and make them feel at home and at ease, it’s really nice,” she said. “It makes the families feel like they’re still getting a holiday, even though they’re not at their house.”
Donations pouring in
Bengtson-Lorerzel’s good works also allowed a direct line to “Santa,” who has agreed to deliver presents – also donated by community members – to adults and children in the temporary housing.
“Just so they have a little something to open,” Bengtson-Lorerzel said.
When Bengtson-Lorerzel posted the Joy Project on Facebook, volunteers and donations began pouring in.
“We probably have seven families cooking,” she said. “Right now, my basement is turning into Christmas center. I have presents all over the place.”
Volunteers like Jennifer Swenson and Christine Hooge have stepped up to help in any way they can after seeing the posts on Facebook. Hooge and her family plan to take photos of the families to later give back as framed portraits.
“When I was tight on money, it was something I wanted but couldn’t have when my kids were little,” Hooge said. “I am looking forward to giving the moms something they really will love: a photo.”
The Facebook page also serves as a connection point for families in need. The past few weeks, Bengtson-Lorerzel has posted any type of need she has gotten wind of. From grocery cards, to a ride to the grocery store for someone with a broken-down car, to a heavy winter coat for a man working outdoors, volunteers have come forward to help.
“People would just say, ‘I’ll take this one or I’ll do that,’ and it was done,” Bengtson-Lorerzel said.
The mother of three children under age 8, who works two jobs, said the project has already given back to her family.
“I think [my kids] are getting a good understanding of why we’re doing this,” Bengtson-Lorerzel, said. “They’re learning now what Christmas is really about. What they are learning now will stick with them the rest of their lives.”
While the response has been amazing, she said, it wasn’t surprising.
“People are so giving and so supportive here. I just knew I could count on my friends and my friends’ friends.”
The Joy Project has enough volunteers, but donations such as gift cards can still be made for those in temporary housing.
More information can be found by searching for the Joy Project or Bengtson-Lorerzel, on Facebook.
“I hope we can do it again next year,” she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530