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As the largest employer in Pottawatomie County, Citizen Potawatomi Nation recognizes the need to give back to the community during the holidays.

In November 2019, one of CPN’s biggest community partners, the Salvation Army, awarded Vice-Chairman Linda Capps and the Tribe with the Doing the Most Good award. They presented it at the kickoff of the Christmas season’s Angel Tree program for Pottawatomie, Lincoln and Seminole counties, hosted at CPN’s First National Bank building in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

“Early on in my husband and I’s arrival here in Shawnee, we realized that CPN played a crucial role in the ministry of the Salvation Army here in Shawnee, through your generosity, through your in-kind donations, through so many other ways that CPN blesses us,” said Salvation Army Captain Stacey Connelly during her presentation. “I would hate to think of how we could remain open without CPN.”

Enterprises, employees and several departments across the Tribe collect and supply food and gifts through other programs in addition to the Salvation Army every fall.

Food

FireLake Discount Foods remains one of the Nation’s most charitable enterprises. The staff and leadership work with numerous local organizations and donate to those otherwise unable to afford a holiday meal.

They have partnered closely with the Salvation Army throughout the last decade, offering storefront space to ring their signature bells as well as providing between 300 and 600 bags of holiday groceries each year during their drive.

The Salvation Army and Citizen Potawatomi Nation Vice-Chairman Linda Capps host the organization’s annual Angel Tree program kickoff at the First National Bank.

“We’ve always had the phrase that we want to make a difference in our community, and this is really the main way we do that is by giving back,” said FireLake Discount Foods Director Richard Driskell. “And a lot of times, it’s not giving back in the form of donations. It’s giving back in the form of our time.”

The store encourages employees to volunteer with charities and community organizations, including CPN Workforce & Social Services. The department coordinates its own Thanksgiving and Christmas program that provides 200 food baskets to families in the area on both holidays. Intensive and Social Service Counselor Gina Bundy led the drive for the seventh year in 2019.

“Everybody that works here is so great because they support everything we do as far as community-wise goes. They want us to help the community,” she said. “They don’t want us to stop with just one project. It’s, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s see how many people we can help.’”

Workforce collects donations largely from CPN employees, but community organizations and individuals provide groceries as well. Volunteers organize baskets with everything for a feast, including meat, potatoes, milk, butter and more.

Bundy feels a special connection to the project. About a decade ago, she received a basket before working at the Nation. Now, she enjoys giving back.

“I did really need some help. Single mom, kids at home. Holidays. You can do the math on that. You don’t want to admit it. I was working three jobs,” she said. “And then I end up coming to work here and find out what this is all about; I had no idea all this help was here.”

Presents

In addition to the Salvation Army Angel Tree, FireLodge Children & Family Services and FireLake Discount Foods sponsored similar programs — a way for children and elders with limited funds to receive Christmas gifts from those with the ability to give.

FireLodge connects CPN employees with wish lists for Potawatomi foster children in Oklahoma Department of Human Services or Tribal custody. This year’s 30 kids named specific items and toys they wanted, and the department distributed the wrapped packages across the larger Oklahoma City metro area in time for Christmas.

Volunteers organize more than 200 Thanksgiving baskets as part of the CPN Workforce & Social Services’ annual food donations.

Foster care and adoption manager Kendra Lowden says the gifts show those in the system the Tribe cares and remembers them. It also supports foster families who took the children into their homes.

“Plus, it’s fun,” she said. “It’s fun to see them open gifts and see them smile and be happy because all the kids we work with have been through traumatic situations. So, to see them be able to just be a kid and be in that moment, it’s really rewarding for us.”

FireLake Discount Foods provided space for an Elders Elves tree and collection site as well. FDF Cash Office Manager Melanie Wren worked with the organization to include more than 300 names and wish lists from elders in central Oklahoma. This is FDF’s fourth year participating.

“I’m very excited about getting to help with dispersal this year, especially incorporating the CPN elders,” Wren said. “Getting to give back to them, because they let us do this in the first place; they let us go with this idea, and it keeps getting bigger.”

Elder Elves sends the presents to those in retirement homes and care facilities across the greater Oklahoma City metro. Many of the participants ask for basic, household goods such as laundry detergent, socks, deodorant, stamps, sandwich bags and more.

“Just everyday necessities that we take for granted — that’s what they’re needing. And that’s all they ask for at Christmas,” Wren said.

Many customers and employees come into the store and grab a cart as soon as the tree goes up. They shop immediately and quickly fill the boxes in the lobby.

“There’s absolutely no stopping us when it comes to who we’re going to help. It doesn’t matter who you are,” Workforce’s Bundy said. “Nobody is going to say, ‘Oh, we can’t help you because of whatever reason.’ It’s, ‘Yeah, we’re going to help you because you need it.’ It’s that simple.”

Visit FireLake Discount Foods online at firelakefoods.com and on Facebook at FireLake Discount Foods. Find more information about Workforce Development & Social Services’ programs at cpn.news/workforce and FireLodge Children & Family Services at potawatomi.org/firelodge.