Annual fleecing funds Christmas Express

Ric Sherman takes a donation from Larry Campbell Thursday during a meeting of the Hermiston Rotary Club. Members of the Rotary collected more than $5,000 in 10 minutes to donate to the Hermiston Christmas Express. <i>Staff photo by E.J. Harris</i>

A group of local business men and woman were fleeced out of thousands of dollars Thursday in Hermiston. However, even though Hermiston Police Lt. Jason Edmiston was present, no one was arrested.

The Hermiston Rotary Club held its annual Christmas Fleecing to raise money for the Hermiston Christmas Express.

As a bell rang out, club president Jodene Hughes asked if the crowd had their wallets and checkbooks out.

Almost in the blink of an eye, money and checks totaling more than $5,000 dropped into a bucket passed around by Rotarian Ric Sherman.

Friendly banter was the norm as the service club collected funds to be used as seed money for next year's Christmas Express.

"I'll donate $50 if he takes off his shirt," Jack Standish said while pointing at Eric Reise.

With a broad grin on his face, Reise started to unbutton his shirt.

"It all goes to a good cause," Standish said.

Standish and Brian Lavoie, the club's newest members, were called forward to spin the Christmas Express Wheel. Amounts of $10, $20 and $50 were interspersed on the wheel, along with a slot designated as "give from your heart."

Foundation Director Floyd Turnbull stood by as Lavoie gripped the wheel and gave it a whirl.

"Big bucks, big bucks, no whammies," Niki Studer shouted out.

As the wheel slowed down and began swinging back and forth, it became apparent Turnbull had weighted the dial, resulting in every spin landing on "give from your heart."

"They don't know it's fixed," Rotarian Morris LeFever said about the wheel.

But that doesn't matter, LeFever said the club members are all kind-hearted.

"This is the season of giving," Hughes said. "It's not a handout, but a hand up."

Edmiston agreed.

"We're just trying to help people out - it's tough sometimes at Christmas," he said.

Edmiston, who has been helping with the Christmas Express program since 2003, said seeing people cry with joy makes the program worthwhile.

Sherman said the program got its start in 1969 when Dick Hodge, a local insurance agent, called former Police Chief Bob Shannon.

"He's the one who called Shannon and said, 'We got some extra toys,' " Sherman recalled.

Hodge, Shannon and former Fire Chief Bob Russell put their heads together and the Hermiston Christmas Express was born.

Edmiston credited Sherman with keeping the canned food drives going at the local schools, enabling the program to provide food for nearly 500 local families during the holiday season.

Although Sherman said food donations are currently down in the local schools, he is amazed at the generosity of many.

"It's the kids that have the least that are bringing the most," he said. "They know what it's like to go without."

Although the Christmas Express bus doesn't provide mass deliveries as it had in days gone by, some deliveries are still made to the elderly and disabled. Edmiston said recipients of the food and presents are contacted and given dates and times to pick up their boxes.

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