Pandemic can’t stop people from helping people

Lions Club member Sally Houx receives a check from Chuck Ruwart of Laramie Peak Motors in Wheatland for the Lions Club annual Angel Tree and Christmas food basket project. Although this season saw diminished giving nationwide due to COVID-19, Platte County donations were up in the midst of the pandemic.

WHEATLAND  – Times are tough. When a nation clamors to receive a $600 stimulus check, it is a sign of dire times.
In Platte County, the lack of funds and a world pandemic cannot stop the people of Platte County from digging a little deeper, sacrificing what they could use on themselves and give to those who are hurting.
The Lions Club of Wheatland played the part of Santa’s elves again this year and put together gifts for those who were signed up for Angel Tree and in need of Christmas food baskets.
“We are giving out 176 Angel Tree gifts and 122 food baskets,” said Sally Houx from the Lions Club. “They had to sign up through family services to receive the gifts and baskets.”
This group has taken on the project for the past eight years. Before that, former PC Record Times worker Ken Barnes was heading up the project and the Lions got behind it.
“It’s been going on for years and years and years,” said Ken Pasley, Lions Club member. “It’s the Christmas basket and the Angel Tree. The Lions here and the Lions in Guernsey both do it.”
Between the Angel Tree and the food baskets, Pasley estimates that it costs between $25 thousand and $30 thousand each year.
“Donations come from individuals and businesses,” Pasley said. “It’s just amazing. We have so much support in this town, I just can’t say enough about it.”
One of the big supporters each year has been Chuck Ruwart from Laramie Peak Motors.
“I’ve done it for many years,” Ruwart said. “I’ve been in the Lions Club since I moved here 27 years ago and I am just unable to attend a lot of the meetings, so this is my No. 1 way of trying to help them, so that’s why I do it. I support the program 100%.”
Businesses that the community supports with their patronage are a large part of the Platte County spirit. Ruwart is part of a large conglomeration of local businesses that invest back into the community.
According to Sally Houx of the Lions Club, the Angel Tree giving was up 30% over last year, from 120 Angel Tree families helped to 185 families assisted in 2020. There was a lot of participation of people actually buying gifts.
“The last day, I took last-minute registrations and flooded the tree again with requests,” Houx said. “We put a call out and within several hours they were all fulfilled. It was wonderful.”
Ruwart who grew up in Denver moved to Wheatland with two children 27 years ago from Washington D.C. and then had three additional children after the move. Ruwart has the only stand-alone Ford dealership that is family-owned and not tied into any other brand or any other large dealer group in the entire state.
“It’s hard to survive,” Ruwart said. “I know several in Nebraska that are trying to sell that are struggling. Even with COVID, we did fine, although April was dead. It was terrible but we got the PPP loan and things picked up in May through August.”
Perhaps it was their reputation as a local car dealer that kept business moving in a time when people still needed transportation. But perhaps it was the fact that Ruwart has learned the principle of reciprocity and knows how to sow his dealership back into the community with projects such as Angel Tree.
As do many of the business leaders in the county. Angels among us who located a tree with a simple notecard attached. And with their investment, they became the miracle for many families this past Christmas.


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