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Local residents look to 'Pay It Forward': Community holiday giving facilitated by Facebook group

Christmas came early this week for some Dickinson-area families. A Facebook group spun off from another popular local social media page has paired families in need with sponsors willing and able to provide some holiday cheer. So far, it has taken...

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Katelynn Benson, of Dickinson, stands on her porch with her son and a set of gifts she donated to a local resident in need. The act of giving was facilitated by Pay It Forward, a Facebook group made to connect donors with recipients through the holidays and possibly beyond. (Press Photo by Andrew Haffner)

Christmas came early this week for some Dickinson-area families.

A Facebook group spun off from another popular local social media page has paired families in need with sponsors willing and able to provide some holiday cheer. So far, it has taken the form of everything from children’s toys and games to windshields and electric bills.

The group, titled “Dickinson ND, Pay It Forward!,” was created Tuesday evening and has assisted around 40 families since then, according to page administrator and South Heart resident Cristina Ridl.

“The community has just been outpouring,” Ridl said. “We had messages from anywhere from the minute the page started until last night at three o’clock in the morning of people donating.”

Ridl, a South Heart resident, described herself and fellow administrators Nick Brewton and Pat Knipp as something like “receptionists” for the giving.

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“We haven’t done much -- we’re just directing people which way to go,” she said. “Other than that, it’s the community.”

Ridl said many of the people reaching out for holiday-time support have expressed embarrassment at finding themselves asking for help.

To mitigate that, those in need can privately message the page’s administrators, who in turn post the potential recipient’s wishlist on the page anonymously or arrange connections directly with donors.

Dickinson resident Brandy Bogan said she’d been directed to Pay it Forward after initially posting for help on the classifieds page when she found herself short on rent.

Bogan said she’d had difficulty meeting her bills through a period of unemployment following an injury and was trying to preserve her home while giving her two children some kind of holiday this year.

A Facebook user reposted her initial request for help on the Pay It Forward page, and before long donors stepped up to help stock Bogan’s pantry.

One even gave her a Christmas tree.

“It means the world to me,” Bogan said of the experience. “Without the help I’ve gotten, I wouldn’t have food in my house. Christmas would be very bleak.”

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For donors, preventing such a downbeat holiday was a conscious goal.

Katelynn Benson, of Dickinson, said she decided to donate when she saw a request on the Pay it Forward page from a mother of twins, as Benson is herself.

Benson said the recipient’s daughters were the same age as her own 3-year-olds, which made it possible to redirect some of the things her girls no longer played with as well as some of their own presents.

Included in that were a pair of small bikes, patterned with a flowery design.

“They’re fortunate enough where they have stuff,” Benson said of her children, “so we were able to give some warm jackets and some toys to make sure those little girls were able to have a Christmas too.”

The opportunity to teach her older kids about giving was nice, she added, as was the uniting aspect of the community gifting.  

Benson commented that the ability for residents in need to reach out was “really neat,” adding that she’d seen people she knew personally asking for help that she hadn’t known needed it.

“To see the struggle, I’m like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know know that’s what’s going on,’” she said.

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Ridl also said the hidden hardships that emerged through the page and the community’s response to help has been “truly remarkable.”

Beyond the strictly online processes, the Pay It Forward group is also arranging a visit and photo session and toy-drive fundraiser with Santa Claus on Dec. 13.

The group will host Santa at the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge in Dickinson with the imaging services of Belfield photographer Krystal Kester.

Photos with Santa are free with donation of a new or used toy, for those who can afford it.  

On Dec. 18, the group plans to go shopping at the Dickinson Wal-Mart, where anyone interested can help fill out the list for the toy drive, which ends in a Dec. 23 distribution.

Ridl said ConocoPhillips, the employer of both Brewton and Knipp, is donating sleds and other giveaways for the drive.

She added that the Pay It Forward initiative could continue beyond the holiday season, depending how everything goes.

Assisting local residents beyond Christmas could focus giving on a wider set of needs.

While Bogan acknowledges her housing situation is still unsettled for now, she says she’s not ungrateful and feels “blessed to be in a community where people do care.”

She also spoke highly of Ridl, Brewton and Knipp.

“I think the creators of the page are amazing people,” she said. “They’re genuine people and they’ve been a blessing to me, that’s for sure. I’m sure I’m not the only one.”

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