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26 years and counting: Howard community bands together to bring presents to area children

Every year, Miner County Sheriff Lanny Klinkhammer gets to be like Santa Claus. Just before Christmas Day, Klinkhammer has delivered presents to area children in need through the Star Tree program each year since 1990. And, after all these years,...

Every year, Miner County Sheriff Lanny Klinkhammer gets to be like Santa Claus.

Just before Christmas Day, Klinkhammer has delivered presents to area children in need through the Star Tree program each year since 1990. And, after all these years, it's become something he looks forward to.

"It's the idea that everybody gets a present," Klinkhammer said. "Everyone is thankful for it and a lot of times, they're counting on those gifts to come."

The program is simple: Instead of decorations, the Christmas tree contains slips of paper with the gender and age of a child in the area. Anybody can stop by the tree, pick up a card, purchase a present that fits the description of the child and return it.

The sheriff's office then picks up the gifts and Klinkhammer - on his day off - sets out on a delivery route.

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"I've done it for a long time, I barely think about it so much," Klinkhammer said. "It's just something that I do every year."

It's not just the sheriff's office that gets involved with the program, but a joint effort in the community.

The Miner County Sheriff's Office works with the Howard School District to assemble a list of kids who are in need of presents. The names on the list are kept anonymous, but employees at the Miner County Bank in Howard put together the cards on the tree, which sits in the bank's lobby.

Kathy Yanish, secretary at Howard Elementary School, has been helping with the program and compiling a list of names since she started nine years ago. She's seen it grow, and this year there are 22 families, with multiple kids, that will be benefitting from the Star Tree.

And she credits the Howard community for continuously supporting those in need year after year.

"That's just an advantage of living in a small community. We're more aware of our surroundings and our neighbors," Yanish said. "In a bigger city, they worry about themselves and go about their own business. We're always looking out for our neighbors."

Dee Remacle, with the Miner County Bank, said the Star Tree was set up this year in the lobby the day after Thanksgiving. But because the community is so anxious to give, several cards had already been picked up. And a week later, all of the cards were gone.

Each card features a child from newborn to 18 years old, along with a few gift suggestions, Remacle said. All of the cards, along with the presents, are due back to the bank by Dec. 16, so there is time left for the sheriff to deliver.

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"It puts smiles on a lot of people's faces," Remacle said. "And it's one of those pay-it-forward type things. It's not like nobody knows who gave it, but they know when those kids get those things they are just thrilled. So it's really worth doing. It's so worth it."

The cards only have toy suggestions, not clothes, Remacle said, as clothing is handled by another office.

Joining the holiday spirit of giving in Howard is the Miner County SDSU 4-H Extension Office. At its office is a Warming Tree, which people can donate socks, gloves, hats and scarves for those in need. Working with the sheriff's office, the items get distributed throughout the area, allowing for kids to get a Christmas Present, and warm clothes for the winter season.

"Howard is a great place to live - the support of this program is immense," Remacle said. "It's one of those things that people need to be aware that there's people with needs - it's a big thing. And it's a good way of sharing and caring for others."

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