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Sales of a Christmas ornament featuring a scene of the iconic Interstate 74 bridge will benefit a holiday gift program that serves families in need in the Jefferson Elementary and Our Lady of Lourdes schools in Bettendorf.

The limited-edition ornament will be offered exclusively by members of the Women’s Downtown Bettendorf Task Force.  Participating businesses are Beréskin Gallery & Art Academy, 2967 State St.; Concept Bath, 2203 Grant St.; Frymoyer Fabrication & Supply, 205 S. 35th St.; K&K True Value Hardware, 1818 Grant St.; State Street Interiors, 905 State St.; and Tango Salon 836 State St.

The scene is a miniature copy of a painting done this summer by area artist Jean Johnson during the plein air painting event sponsored by Beréskin Gallery. The beribboned and silver-framed ornament can be hung on a tree or placed on a tabletop. The price is $8. Some businesses are accepting cash only for the purchase.

The task force, which meets monthly, decided to do something for the holidays that would benefit local families, and met recently with Steve Gustafson, who has led a project called the Jefferson/Lourdes Neighborhood Christmas Project for the past 10 years. In that time, the program has assisted 95 families and 23 senior citizens. Seniors were added as recipients last year.

“We heard what Steve was doing in the neighborhood and wanted to support the wonderful effort,” said Cari Henson, owner of 5o2 Creative and coordinator for the task force.

The holiday project has been a family effort for Gustafson, an environmental geologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, his wife, Angie, a pre-K teacher at Lourdes, and their children, Emma, 16, and Jack, 13.

He said it all began when Emma was a first-grader at Jefferson and the family became aware of some classmates whose families were in need.

“We talked to the principal and asked if there was anything we could help with,” Steve Gustafson said. Social workers from the school and the city related the needs of a particular family, whose identity remained anonymous.

Gustafson approached several neighbors who also helped out. The items were delivered to the family by a social worker. The program grew to two recipient families and 15 donors in the second year.

In 2017, the program had grown to 76 donors helping 18 families and the senior recipients.

The anonymity of the program has been maintained. Gustafson only knows the recipients as Family A, Family B, etc., in order to keep their needs organized. Recipients do not know who the donors are. Up until this year, the Gustafsons have stored all the gifts at their home until they could be delivered in early December. This year, though, there will be a drop-off day designated at Lourdes. Lunch will be served to thank the donors.

“I’m the only one who knows who the donors are; the only ones who know who the families are, are the social workers,” he said.

Needs for the families vary from shoes, clothing, household goods, beds, dishes and cookware, to even basic supplies like toilet paper and paper towels.

“But, of course, there are toys!” Gustafson says with a smile.

“This would never happen if I didn’t have these donors,” he said. “They are the key; they are the anonymous Secret Santas.”

Gustafson said he is grateful that the Women’s Downtown Bettendorf Task Force is helping out by raising money through ornament sales.

“It’s really great. It’s a great opportunity to highlight the business community and their involvement in the community as well,” he said. “I’ll be able to apply whatever it (the donation) is to someone in this area. You couldn’t ask for a better collaboration.”

Aside from purchasing an ornament, those who wish to help with the Jefferson/Lourdes Neighborhood Christmas Project can contact Gustafson at iowagus@hotmail.com.

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