ESCANABA - This Christmas, one local man is reminding people of the importance of helping out families in need to make their holiday season just a little brighter.
Scott Knauf, of Flat Rock, is part of a group containing 35 to 40 business people locally called Business Networking International. Around the holidays, the group does a "Pay it Forward" activity where each member is given an envelope with $20 and instructed to pay it forward and do something positive with the money for someone else.
This is the third year members of BNI have been paying it forward, and with the help of friends, family, and other donors, Knauf has used his money to help area families and children in need. Knauf first got involved in helping the area needy by communicating with many local school districts, including Escanaba, Gladstone, and Rapid River, to find out which families could benefit from a little assistance during the holiday season.
"I've had families who needed refrigerators, stoves, dressers, and then I actually got people who donated money," he said. "Then we were able to go shopping for the kids and bring presents to the mom and dad."
In Christmas 2010, his $20 was turned into approximately $1,900 when factoring in the value of items people donated and the cash that was collected for the cause. In its first year, five families were helped from Knauf's involvement to "Pay it Forward." That year they were able to help pay for some utility bills, get food baskets and grocery store gift cards, purchase computers and printers, and help some parents purchase gifts for their children.
Last year, everyone was able to pitch in and help 11 families including 32 kids.
Knauf, who operates a tree nursery in the Flat Rock area, has also cut down Christmas trees from his nursery to give to families who otherwise wouldn't have one. After doing so in the first year, women from Curves began saving tree stands, Christmas decorations and ornaments to assemble into multiple Christmas tree packages, which included the tree, tree stand, lights and ornaments to decorate the tree and house.
This year so far, they have been able to distribute five Christmas tree packages to families in need, and have also received a donation for a mother to come to Paul Mitchell The School to have her hair and makeup done. She was then taken to lunch and out shopping to purchase presents for her children.
"It was a little something for her so she could feel better about herself, and she was able to go out and do the shopping for her kids, which I think it means a little more to them," he said.
Knauf also recalls taking a grandmother Christmas shopping this year for her grandchildren since she does not have a car.
He anticipates helping nine families and 26 children this year by paying it forward.
"People just realize that their neighbor needs help," said Knauf. "I thought people who needed help look a certain way, but they look just like you and me. It's your next door neighbor that needs help."
According to Knauf, when he first started with the money, he didn't realize he could help so many people just starting with $20, getting help from others who donate, and watching it grow and spiral into something bigger.
"It's just unbelievable how people are willing to give back and help out," he said.