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Lake Maxinkuckee Film Festival raises awareness for families struggling in winter

Photography provided

The annual Lake Maxinkuckee Film Festival in Culver continues to prove that a small group of concerned citizens can change people’s lives.

The event started 12 years ago after community leaders noticed the struggles that many families faced in the winter months: they couldn’t afford to pay their heating bills and they didn’t have enough to pay for winter gear for their children. Kids were coming to school cold, without proper clothing to protect them from the snow.

Community members started the Gift of Warmth. The group works to collect money and clothing for local families that grapple with the extra financial burdens that come with wintertime. When the group first started thinking about how to raise awareness for their cause, someone suggested a film festival — show a movie, have a picnic and ask attendees to bring something to donate as admission. The idea caught on, and it’s continued to be a community staple over a decade later.

This year’s festival will once again take place on Friday and Saturday of Labor Day weekend in Culver Park. Friday night is a special dinner for large donors, while Saturday is for the public. Entertainment will begin at 6:00 p.m. with musical guests Acoustically Speaking and the North American Brass Company.

“[Acoustically Speaking] is a group of three or four people, and they’ve got acoustic guitars and drums. The North American Brass Company is old-timey kind of – you hear this music going on like in the Music Man,” Paula Sturman says, festival co-chair. “Each of them usually plays about 45 minutes each.”

The movie this year is the 1985 classic, “Back to the Future.” Guests of the film festival will also be treated to a picnic.

“Saturday night of the festival starts at about 6 in Culver Town Park, and we start with a picnic with hot dogs, pulled pork, popcorn, chips, root beer floats, and ice cream,” Sturman says. “The only price of admission is an article of warm clothing.”

This year, though, school officials have asked that attendees please bring a pair of new or lightly worn sneakers or new socks. While the coats and other warm clothing will be used, schools are seeing more and more students with holes in their shoes or inadequate footwear in the winter and throughout the year.

“It’s not that they won’t use coats, but the school officials have said ‘Boy, we see the kids walking around in the winter with shoes with holes in them,’” Sturman says. “All the school officials have said that they need new or lightly worn clean sneakers or a package of socks.”

While the movie and picnic are a great time, Sturman is involved with Gift of Warmth for more than the film festival — seeing the impact of the organization on children throughout the year is more rewarding than anything else. The effect on the community keeps her coming back.

“I still get chills because when a high school student that looks at you and smiles with tears in his eyes, saying ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever had,’ it’s significant to me,” she says.

Its impact was most visible this past January when the group was able to give every single student in the Culver Community Schools a hoodie. With a fantastic group of volunteers, contributors, and a sponsor from Under Armour, they were able to give out 900 hoodies to local students. The group acknowledges that they would not be able to accomplish nearly as much without the various generous contributions from the community.

“The impact of the Gift of Warmth is that no child should ever worry about being warm or coming home to a cold house. We’re successful and have grown because of our sponsors and our volunteers,” Sturman says.

The Lake Maxinkuckee Film Festival is on Saturday, August 31, but donations are accepted throughout the year. School officials are looking for new or lightly-worn sneakers and new socks. Their website is currently being updated, but you can visit them online at lakemaxfilmfestival.com.

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