How the glitch stole Christmas


Technology is a wonderful thing — most of the time. But sometimes it’s what takes Christmas presents away from kids in the poorest county in Minnesota.

Thom Blackbird, who runs the Cass Lake Family Service Center, an agency that helps residents in the town, including those who are not enrolled members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, says about 2,000 people depend on the center for help, including obtaining GEDs, attending at-risk programs for kids, getting computer training, and obtaining employment assistance. And Christmas presents.

Last year, kids in 350 families got toys, thanks to the Marines’ Toys for Tots campaign in Minnesota. This year, none will.

Here’s why. The Marines use an online sign-up form to collect the requests for toys shortly before Thanksgiving. Blackbird says his assistant filled out the form this year, but when she pressed submit, she got no confirmation message. So she filled it out again… and again.

After not hearing anything from the Marines, Blackbird left several messages for the Toys for Tots organizers and heard this week that when the Marines saw multiple submissions, they assumed someone was trying to submit phony requests, and ignored them; all of them. They also told him, according to Blackbird, that they didn’t want to provide toys to two agencies in the same area, and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe was already getting toys, to be given only to Native American children.

“They’re doing a fantastic job,” Blackbird says of the Marines, “and I thanked them for their service here and overseas. It’s just a case of technology that didn’t work.”

But there’s no “give” in the Marines’ decision not to include Cass Lake Family Service Center, partly because there are no toys. Blackbird says toy donations are lagging badly — 50,000 are in hand, but 200,000 are needed. It’s a startling drop-off in donations that I’ve, so far, been unable to confirm with the Marines, but KARE, which partners with the Marines, reports a significant enough drop that it’s unlikely there’ll be any extra toys for the Cass Lake kids. Blackbird will find out Tuesday.

It’s a theme repeated all over the country — tough times for grown-ups means tough luck for kids.

So yesterday, Blackbird called 100 families to tell them there’ll be no presents in Cass Lake. “They were all so gracious. I had only one negative response. But, still, I hung up the phone at one point and said, ‘just take me outside and beat me. It’d be better than this.'”

Thom Blackbird can be reached at 218-335-7837.

  • Cee

    I seem to recall about a month or 2 ago, the KQRS morning team was doing a bit about Cass County and the surrounding areas because of the suicide rate is twice that of any other area in the state. They made some outrageous statements, that caused a public outcry, followed by an “apology” from the morning show folk. I think the best way to prove they meant it is to help fill the gap this glitch caused.

    (Collins notes: It was actually Beltrami County and the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe in the KQRS deal)

  • Amy

    Well our family has given up entirely on presents this year, except not due to technology. Can’t afford it anymore and I guess you’d say we’re middle class, although it’s steadily slipping into working poor. It’s too bad, really, I loved Christmas as a kid and getting presents is a nice thing.

    Did you see that article in the Pioneer Press today about “giving parties”?Check it out. Unbelievable the gaps between rich and poor in our society. Perhaps all the rich folks could get together and have a toys for tots party for these kids in Cass Lake.

  • cee

    OOps.. sorry about my poor geography (or memory), but perhaps that crew could help out both counties…???

  • Joe

    Can’t we somehow help the kids in

    Cass Lake? I would be happy to pledge and even deliver the presents there

  • cee

    I would love to pitch in as well. Already have 4 large bags of new and gently used girl’s clothing

    Just need a collection site and some publicity

  • Bob Collins

    I came to work today thinking it would be really cool to get all the bloggers in Minn., to pitch in in some way — steal the post above without credit and slap it on their sites — maybe even help organize some sort of drive. But News Cut is brand new, and probably doesn’t have a lot of viz yet in the blogosphere, and I haven’t had time to get in touch with them all individually. There’s the time thing.

    But still, a cool theme could be “technology took Christmas away; technology gives it back.”

  • Joe

    Would KQRS help us out with this?

  • Cee

    For those of you who wish to help..

    the quickest way to help is to send either cash cards from Target or Tax deductible checks to:

    Cass Lake Family & Community Center

    P.O. Box 985

    Cass Lake, MN 56633

    Target in Bemidji has agreed to work with the center at cost and with free delivery, so this would be the best way to help.

    thank you all and may your holidays be blessed,


  • joe

    Is there some way to get the word out about this? Kudos to Target for helping with this.


  • Thom

    Thank you so much all for picthing in and making a Christmas for our children in Cass Lake. As the new Director there it has been heart warming to see all of the people who truely care!

  • Thom Blackbird

    Hellhope is terrible, false hope is even worse.

    o All,

    I would like to obtain come clarification. I stopped into Target in Bemidji today and spoke to the manager. He knew nothing of giving the family center anything at cost or any other arrangements. they were vary gracious and uinvited m to fill out a donation sheet. If the person that posted this can shed any light on the post that was left her I would appreciate it. No Hope is terrible, false hope is even worse.

    Again thank you to all who are trying to help.

    Thom Blackbird

  • cee

    Info came from folks working to help solve this up in Cass Lake. Will call to morrow and check on names and call you, Thom

    I agree, false hope is the worst. There is help coming..

    wish I could give better details at this point.


  • Thom Blackbird

    How good people whupped up on the Grinch!!

    I wanted to update everyone about Christmas in Cass Lake. Through the efforts of a great group of people the Cass Lake Family Center will be able to put on the toy giveaway.

    Sharon Mitchel of the Horizons Program, Joanne Stately of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, Bob Collins of MPR, The Palace Casino and Leech Lake Gaming, John Parsons of Channel 9, Paul Bunyan Broadcasting in Bemidji, The Longville Area Women of Today, Nacy Ludwig, Tech Builders, Peter Ruten,Susan Beaulieu, Steven Papocky,Kathryn Wesley,Laurine Cecil and others who shall remain anonymous. To those and all others who will contribute, we of the Family Center extend our deepest thanks!

    May the creator bless you all with health and well being.

    Thom Blackbird

    Cass Lake Family Center.