By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Jeff Thomas helped with the program for 20 years but has only seen the finale the past three years.

Thomas is one of the dozens who help out each year with the Keizer Network of Women’s (KNOW) Giving Basket program.

The program starts in June when school counselors in Keizer are notified and asked to think of students who could use some help during the holidays.

Things really ramp up in the fall. By late October KNOW members are sorting through requests. Gift tags were created on Nov. 6, which went out to Giving Trees at five Keizer locations. After the gifts were picked up early last week, the real work began. Gifts were wrapped Dec. 11 and the final step was delivering the gifts to families last Saturday, Dec. 13.

Thomas was at Keizer Courthouse Fitness for 20 years and thus had plenty of experience with the Giving Trees.

“When I left there, I did a tree where I work now, at New York Life,” Thomas said. “The delivery part is my favorite. I couldn’t wrap this year because I had jury duty, but we did the food boxes Wednesday (Dec. 10) night.”

Keizer City Councilor-elect Amy Ripp co-chaired KNOW this year with Kalynn White.

Ripp’s son Zach was on hand to help wrap last Thursday – her other son Ryan couldn’t get off work – and helped load vehicles on Saturday.

“This makes a huge impact in our community,” Ripp said of the program. “Of all the fundraisers I do, I’m the most passionate about this one. When you deliver the gifts, kids are crying and moms are hugging you.”

Audrey Butler, who has helped run KNOW for the past seven years, kept the boxes of gifts moving during the wrapping party Dec. 11.

“My favorite part is I make a point to do at least one delivery each year,” Butler said. “It’s amazing to see the joy a package brings a kid. This really brings people together. By the end of the week it’s so busy and hectic. But at the same time, I kind of feel like my Christmas is over on Saturday morning.”

While the group may have Women in the name, men are welcome to help out. One such man who’s helped out the past four years is Larry Jackson, who in the past helped load boxes but did some deliveries this year.

“I love giving back to the community,” Jackson said. “I wanted to help the ladies in KNOW. I read in Men’s Health Magazine this type of activity helps couples stay together.”

Related to that, Jackson brought girlfriend Tina McLaughlin to the wrapping party for the first time last year. The two were back at it this, wrapping gifts together on what they jokingly referred to as a date night.

“Larry roped me in,” McLaughlin said. “He didn’t tell me about the delivery part last year, but that’s the best part.”

Jackson feels such an activity is a perfect fit for the city.

“This is an opportunity to give back,” he said. “It’s what Keizer is all about, supporting others that need help. You just step up when asked to. This is an opportunity to step up and be active in your community. So many people want to do something and are not aware there are such opportunities.”

Thomas did multiple delivery trips this year with the help of teenage daughter Kara.

“I just like helping people,” Kara said.

After helping with the Giving Tree for years, Thomas said starting to do deliveries with children three years ago gave him a different perspective.

“You realize how much it helps people out,” Thomas said.

One year some of Thomas’ other children helped out and had friends with them. One of the girls recognized a boy getting a gift as one of her classmates.

“It made them realize these are kids who go to school with them,” Thomas said. “The kids see they are doing something good for their friends.”

Kara said that day was a good reality check.

“It helps you realize people just like us don’t go home to the same thing we do,” she said.