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If the loot in St. Nick’s Boot this year is any indication, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well in our community. The giant boot was stationed outside the La Crosse Center this month, serving as a gift repository for people living with mental illness this holiday season.

Helen Elsbernd mug


The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and the La Crosse Tribune partnered to Fill the Boot this year as a means to increase awareness of mental-health needs in our community. The Tribune wrote stories about local programs working with people living with mental illness and published them along with wish lists from each program.

The community and the sisters then worked to fulfill the wish list by placing gifts in a 6-foot-tall St. Nick-style boot.

This is the second year FSPA has partnered with the La Crosse Tribune to Fill the Boot and the eighth year working together to bring Christmas joy to community members experiencing tough times. Each year has shown the extraordinary generosity and overwhelming good in people’s hearts.

Fill the Boot began earlier this month when the Tribune highlighted RAVE in La Crosse. RAVE is short for Recovery Avenue, a drop-in center where people who are living with mental illness and/or addiction can find resources and support. In addition to the many donations, including a laptop in St. Nick’s boot, several community members contacted RAVE directly to donate coats and other supplies. With community donations, FSPA’s seed gifts and cash donations from both the Tribune and FSPA, the wish list that included everything from art supplies to dish towels was fulfilled.

As the project developed momentum, so did the giving. When the Tribune ran a story about Family & Children’s Center’s outpatient therapy programs, including its children’s Play Therapy Room, gifts not only poured into the boot but also into the center. In addition to the numerous supplies filling the boot, another $400 to $500 worth of needed items came directly to the center, including a new, versatile art easel to replace the one barely standing on its last leg. FSPA and the Tribune added $1,500 to the gifts to ensure FCC’s entire wish list was fulfilled.

LOGO -- St. Nick's Boot

The third and final organization was Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse, which recently expanded its mental-health initiatives to address the complex mental-health needs of many of its members. Like other organizations, its wish list included arts-and-craft items, playing cards and other activities to encourage youth to interact with mentors and other adults they can trust. Among the many wonderful surprises was $200 worth of new yarn along with crochet needles. Again, with an added cash donation from the Tribune and FSPA, another wish list was fulfilled.

When we began this year’s Fill the Boot campaign, our wish was simply to have the community join us in filling the boot for people who could use a hand up this holiday season. In the end, however, you didn’t just fill the boot. You also filled our hearts with hope. We hope it did the same for you.

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Helen Elsbernd is vice president of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.


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