Wishing Tree: Making Christmas brighter for area families

Volunteer Dave Tilley carries a bag of toys and clothes.

Volunteer Dave Tilley carries a bag of toys and clothes.

Cars began lining up next to CC Communications’ South Maine Street building and maintenance location a half hour before toys and clothes were distributed as part of the annual Wishing Tree program.

Five days remained before Christmas and the big day for many of the county’s children was rapidly approaching.

Once the call went out for families to fill out eligibility forms and for a small group of dedicated volunteers to begin buying clothes and toys, the Wishing Tree program was on its way to make Christmas happier for the youngsters.

Dawn Ballard, a member of the CC Communications Independent Telecommunications Pioneer Association, said 45 families that included 141 children picked up large black bags filled with a variety of items. Ballard, a Wishing Tree volunteer for 26 years, said the program helped 130 children last year.

“The community has been doing this for a long time,” she said, pointing to the overall involvement. “The hospital took 30 kids spread out among their departments. The quilters made 60 quilts.”

When the volunteers receive cash donations, they take the money and shop for items at local stores.

Ballard said the Hearts of Gold quilters are phenomenal for the time they put in to make quality quilts. She cited the community’s esprit de corps when it comes to people donating items, and groups such as Toys for Tots doing their part with volunteers standing in front of Walmart with their familiar Marine Corps truck.

Within the past three weeks, local law enforcement spent a Sunday in front of Walmart collecting food for the Out of Egypt Food Pantry. Other service organizations such as the Fallon Rotary Club collected items for the senior citizens.

Ballard has seen many changes over the years since she began volunteering. The venues have switched from downtown locations to the Nevada Army National Guard Armory to a drive-through lane at the fairgrounds during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

The advancement of toys also has affected Ballard.

“It’s kept me kind of young with the toys and technology out there,” she added.

Another volunteer who has helped for several decades is Dave Tilley, a senior sales engineer with CC Communications. He said this is probably his last year volunteering. On Jan. 1, he retires from CC Communications, and he and his wife Debbie, who has also volunteered with the Wishing Tree program during previous years, may want to spend their winters in a warmer climate.

Tilley remembers some of the more unusual moments of volunteering for Wishing Tree such as helping to assemble 23 riding horses donated by Big R or carrying 50 bicycles up the stairs at the Fallon Fraternal Hall & Community Center on South Maine Street.

“It’s been a pleasure to help needy families from all walks of life … very satisfying,” he said.

Although the volunteers spend countless hours behind the scenes to make Wishing Tree successful, those picking up the toys and clothes expressed their appreciation.

Santa Claus (Dave Baumbach) welcomed many of the parents who picked up toys gave only their first names. Baumbach has enjoyed his Santa Claus role for 20 years.

Shannon, who has three daughters, said this is the first year she has picked up toys and clothes.

“The economy is tough,” she said, adding it’s difficult for a family to meet their monthly obligations.

Likewise, Grace, who has daughters ages 15 and 8 and a 6-year-old son, also said the economy has been tighter than last year.

“Everything is so expensive now,” she said.

Grace, though, said she appreciates the community and the volunteers who help others.

Christine also has three children: Daughters ages 10 and 20 months, and a son who’s 7 years old.

“This is a great program and really helpful,” she said. “It’s been rough. I had some health problems and became a full-time mom.”

Christine credits the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe for assisting her.

“They’ve been wonderful,” she added.

The Wishing Tree program begins accepting applications in August to determine eligibility. In early October, the call goes out for families to be adopted.


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