Sheriff's Relief Fund has tradition of giving


December 21, 2023

Shannon Brown

Gifts line the walls organized by age for girls and boys in the basement of the Valley Bank as Theresa Milner (left) and her helpers, Shelly Wrightson and Denise Taylor, help organize.

For more than 25 years, the Sanders County Sheriff's Office Christmas Relief Fund has helped make the holidays a little brighter for local children. The Relief Fund supports the Tree of Hearts, a program in which community members pick a heart off a tree with the age of a child, buy a gift and donate it to the program.

Last week, volunteers gathered in the basement of Valley Bank in Thompson Falls to organize and finish the wrapping of the hundreds of gifts that had been donated. Some of the local businesses wrapped the gifts donated at their locations. "This really helps us out," Theresa Milner, the organization's supervisor said. Milner said she never knows the total amount of gifts that are donated because some businesses put out a box to collect toys in, and she receives donations throughout the year. Two days prior to delivery Milner said she gets the tallies by age and gender. Sometimes they are short in areas. In that case Milner said she goes to True Value and picks out the remaining gifts needed. Sometimes there are leftovers for the next year.

Milner said that Becky McDonald, a dispatcher, starts punching out hearts for the trees in November. She writes the gender and ages on them and adds yarn for hanging. "I put them in bags to be delivered to businesses," Milner added.

Tree of Hearts donations were delivered to the bank for Milner and her helpers Shelly Wrightson, dispatch supervisor at the sheriff's office, and Denise Taylor, Milner's assistant, to wrap and organize. "Most of the gifts come to us already wrapped," Milner said. "But many are not, so we have to wrap them before we can divide them into age groups for girls or boys."

"We have the gift donations and the food donations that will be delivered to recipients on December 21," Milner added. Each child on the list receives two presents. Sign-up forms are located throughout Sanders County at different businesses. Sometimes people will sign up for other people in need of a little help through the holidays. "We give food to anyone in need, not just families with kids," Milner added.

In 1998, Sheriff Gene Arnold started the program, according to Milner. This encompasses the Tree of Hearts toy drive and the food drive, she added. Other events around the county aid with this process and businesses such as

Avista donate money for the food baskets.

Milner said she gets a count of the baskets needed and gives the final count to Harvest Foods. The food is paid for by donations mailed to the bank or sheriff's department. Gifts are bagged on December 20 and food baskets and gifts are picked up the next day to be delivered throughout the county, Milner said. "I appreciate all the help from volunteers and welcome anyone who wants to drop in and wrap presents," she added.


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