By Kristen Miller
DASSEL-COKATO, MN For the last 26 years, the Cokato Lions Club has been serving the Dassel-Cokato community through a number of projects, including the Silent Santa toy drive that is now underway.
Charted in 1983, the Cokato Lions has grown to 41 members, including two females, with half of its membership from Dassel, according to Abe Abrahamson, Cokato Lions secretary.
Lions Clubs International is the largest service club organization in the world, with 1.3 million members and more than 45,000 clubs, according to its official web site.
Lion Clubs International assists with humanitarian projects, both globally and locally, with a focus on youth, restoring sight, and preventing blindness with the SightFirst initiative.
More than $346 million has been raised since the project began in 1990, according to Lions Clubs International.
On the local level, the Cokato Lions Club serves its community through several annual projects.
Silent Santa toy drive
One of its longest, and possibly most rewarding projects for the Cokato Lions is providing children with Christmas gifts through the Silent Santa toy drive.
For the past 15 years, the Cokato Lions have been collecting and distributing toys to local families in need.
Each year, approximately 50 families (about 115 individuals) in the Dassel and Cokato community are provided with donated toys, books, games, etc., who otherwise could not afford to buy Christmas presents.
Cokato Lion Mike Lhotka and his wife, Barb, have been integral in making this program successful, according to Abrahamson.
“They do a phenomenal job and get very little recognition,” he said.
Lhotka finds this program to be very rewarding, not only to the area residents in need, but for him as a Lion.
“I feel this program shows how the Lions and the community can work together to help each other in a time of need,” Lhotka said.
New and unwrapped gifts will be collected beginning today until Friday, Dec. 18 for distribution Saturday, Dec. 19 at First Baptist Church in Cokato.
Drop-off sites in Cokato are: First National Bank, State Bank, Holt Motors, Cokato Motors, Daniel’s Family Restaurant, Dollar General, MAWSECO, Allina Medical Clinic, and Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Drop-off sites in Dassel are: Wells Fargo Bank, Farmers State Bank, Dassel Liquor, Meeker Memorial Clinic, and Dassel Medical Center.
Collection will also take place at the Dassel-Cokato High School from Monday, Dec. 14 through Friday, Dec. 18.
Toys, games, books, sports equipment, personal electronics, personal grooming items, and clothing are commonly collected and distributed.
Monetary gifts are also accepted, since up to $1,500 is needed annually to provide items of clothing for all ages and to provide gift items specific to special needs, according to Lhotka.
Checks made out to the Cokato Lions can be sent to PO Box 684 Cokato, MN, 55321.
Pancake breakfast Saturday, Dec. 5
New this year, will be a pancake and sausage breakfast served by the Cokato Lions in conjunction with the Christmas Celebration Saturday, Dec. 5, sponsored by Cokato Chamber of Commerce and Dassel-Cokato Early Childhood Center, .
The Lions will serve breakfast from 8:30 a.m. to noon in the high school commons (Door H).
The cost is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 12 and under, or one can donate a new unwrapped gift for the Silent Santa toy drive.
The Christmas Celebration will take place at the Early Childhood Center from 9:30 a.m. to noon and will include a visit with Santa, stories with local storyteller Bob Gasch, and holiday activities for the children. Admission is free.
Other Lions events
Other fundraising events each year include a pork chop dinner in April, the pork chop and brat stand at the Cokato Corn Carnival, and other pancake breakfasts.
In the past, the Cokato Lions Club has purchased and sent Girl Scout cookies to local soldiers serving overseas, mowed the bike trail between Dassel and Cokato, cooked pork chops for homecoming at the high school, and more.
The Lions have also made donations for a variety of needs within the community, including: persons needing hearing aids, eyeglasses for youth, school groups, the mock crash led by the Cokato Dassel Rotary, door prizes for Dassel Elementary Bike Rally, PATH Crisis Nursery of Wright County, DC Band Boosters, Cokato Library Summer Reading Program, Friendship Ventures, Cokato Corn Carnival queen coronation, historical societies, and more.
The Cokato Lions recently purchased a kit to build a 17-foot cedar strip canoe that will be raffled off this spring.
Proceeds will go to the Cokato Lions’ new scholarship program for Dassel-Cokato High School students.
Tickets will be $10 per chance, with five other prizes also awarded. See any Cokato Lion to purchase a ticket.
Monthly meetings and how to join
The Cokato Lions Club meets the first Monday of each month at the Cokato Town and Country Club.
Meetings begin will social hour at 6 p.m. followed by a meal and program at 7 p.m. Business meetings take place the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m.
Past programs have included speakers from the Wright County K-9 unit, leader dogs for the vision-impaired, food shelf representatives, and more.
Membership is $55/year, and meals are $7 each.
To join, contact John Bergmann, (320) 286-2711.