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Rachel Hobbs / Alex Brandon 

President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, greets and hands out sandwiches to members of the U.S. Coast Guard, at the Lake Worth Inlet Station, on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017, in Riviera Beach, Fla.

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Giving back to the community

On Thanksgiving Day, volunteers at the Salvation Army in Beatrice gathered to serve meals to nearly 200 members of the community.

A full spread of Thanksgiving favorites, including turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pies, were donated and then cooked by volunteers. The meal usually takes months to prepare, according to Salvation Army Lt. Rachel Irvine, who has been organizing the annual event for the past three years.

“This dinner is one of the bigger community events that we do here. This is about three or four months in the making,” she said. “This is all part of the greater Christmas effort. Christmas is the craziest time—it’s our major fundraising time. This happens in the middle of all of that.”

With an estimated 50 volunteers ready to lend a helping hand, Irvine said she is thankful for the spirit of volunteerism that is widespread throughout the community.

“People just want to help,” Irvine said. “It can feel overwhelming, but it really is a blessing because there’s a real need to help other people—to give back—which is such a great thing to see, especially in a smaller community like this.”

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At Pinecrest Tree Farm, Christmas is a full-time job

For many, the start of the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving.

At the Pinecrest Tree Farm in Blue Springs, however, the Christmas season starts in late January.

With Christmas fast approaching, owners Cherri and Gary Trump have been sawing down trees, decorating one-of-a-kind wreaths and making sure everything is just the perfect amount of holly-jolly.

On Wednesday, Cherri and Melissa Creek were hard at work building Christmas decorations in the back room.

“We do around 1,000 pieces through the year,” Creek said. “I mean, my goodness, we do everything from a five-foot wreath to a 12-inch wreath.”

They make centerpieces, cemetery covers, decorated live trees, ornaments and, new this year, hand-painted wooden Christmas chairs.

Everything is made by hand and then either displayed in the shop or, for custom orders, put in the back in a place the staff members call the "glitter room."

Filled with all sorts of holiday decor, every space in the glitter room is covered with greenery, bows and ornaments and it smells like freshly-cut pine.

Gary is in charge of bringing in the freshly-cut pines that customers picked out months in advance of Christmas.

He puts them on a loud industrial piece of equipment that shakes off the excess needles and branches and spruces up the remaining branches.

“We've got white pine and Scotch pine in the field and some Douglas fir,” he said. “We bring in Fraser fir and balsam fir from Michigan.”

Over the course of the holidays, Pinecrest will sell between 1,200 and 1,300 trees, he said.

Gary also helps with cutting wood for decorations, too.

“We make all of our signs here,” Cherri said. “Gary cuts them from the saw mill, we sand them, then Melissa does all the painting on it.”

During the season, Creek and all of the people involved in creating the decorations have what she called a glow.

It’s glitter, and it’s nearly impossible to get rid of.

“I have one piece of glitter that stays right here year round,” she said, pointing to her hairline. “It doesn't matter how many times I wash my hair or scrub that spot, there's one little tiny piece of glitter that's always there. Always.”

In the Christmas decoration business, there are fads that come and go, Creek said. For a while, peacock feathers were huge, but that's kind of gone out of style.

Red and lime green has been hot for the last five years or so, and burlap is big this year, Cherri said, but a lot of people still go with the traditional red and gold.

Pulling a load of trees into the yard on a trailer attached to an ATV, Gary said this weekend is going to be their busiest of the year.

They’ll have a hayrack ride that customers can take to get a tour of the farm, but just for the Thanksgiving weekend.

If you are planning to get a tree a month before Christmas, Gary had a few tips to keeping it looking fresh and to keep it from shedding needles all over the carpet.

“You always want to make sure to put a new cut on it,” he said. “Cut about an inch off the bottom. Get it in water within two hours of doing that and don't let it go dry. It'll last easily until Christmas.”

Pinecrest is located at 503 S. Walnut St. in Blue Springs and is open every day from 9 a.m. until dark until Dec. 22.

Santa cops: BPD invites you to stuff the cruiser

The Beatrice Police Department is getting ready to fill up police vehicles, not with criminals, but Christmas cheer.

The annual Stuff the Cruiser event runs this Saturday and Sunday in front of Beatrice Wal-Mart and police officers are hoping to fill up their cars with toys for children in need.

From 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, Beatrice police are asking for unwrapped, new toys to be dropped off for families in need around Beatrice.

Then, on Dec. 12, children and their families can go to the Beatrice YMCA to pick up a present.

"We'll have the big mobile command bus, which is the big crime scene bus that we use,” said Officer Derrick Hosick. “We'll have that out there, so you can't miss it.”

The Beatrice YMCA is also asking for volunteers to help decorate a winter wonderland at the facility on Dec. 5. YMCA staff members will be setting up lights and decorations for what they hope will be a unique experience for the children as they pick out their presents.

Parents or guardians who would like their child to receive a gift can fill out an application at the YMCA.

The plan is to have gifts available for both boys and girls of all age groups, said the YMCA’s Jen Elliott.

“It was a great success last year,” she said. “We had oodles of presents. More than we ever imagined.”

After donations are dropped off at Wal-Mart, officers will bring the toys back to the Beatrice police station downtown, where toys can be donated until Dec. 3.

On Dec. 11, Hosick said the toys will be brought to the YMCA.

“We make it as big of a production as we can,” Hosick said. “We get as many cop cars as we can get involved. We kind of just make a bunch of noise and make a big deal of it. We're proud of the toys and we're proud we're a part of this program.”

Applications for children to receive gifts can be found at the YMCA’s front desk. Toys and monetary donations can be dropped off at the YMCA or at the Beatrice Police Department.

Beatrice 6 appeal decision could come down in matter of months

The outcome of an appeal by Gage County in the Beatrice 6 case could be known in two or three months.

Attorneys for Gage County and the six made arguments before a three-judge panel at the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in November, which will decide whether the original decision will stand. The decision awarded $28.1 million to the six people who served time for a murder they didn’t commit.

At the Gage County Board of Superintendents meeting on Wednesday morning, County Attorney Roger Harris said that the decision should come down in the next 60 to 90 days.

The case dates back to the 1985 brutal rape and murder of Helen Wilson, which occurred at her apartment in Beatrice. Joseph White, Ada JoAnn Taylor and Thomas Winslow each spent nearly 20 years in prison for the crime, and James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez and Debra Shelden spent five years in prison, before a 2008 DNA test proved that Bruce Allen Smith had committed the crime and exonerated the six. Smith died in an Oklahoma prison in 1992.

The Beatrice 6 sued Gage County and two sheriff’s deputies, saying their constitutional rights had been violated. They were awarded $28.1 million by a jury in a U.S. District Court trial.

At the appeal hearing, both sides each had 20 minutes to make their case before the three-judge panel, who also questioned attorneys.

Harris said that attorneys for Gage County, Melanie Whittamore-Mantzios and Patrick O’Brien, called out the Beatrice 6 attorneys for what he called exaggerations they made in the evidence, though they couldn’t say which way the judges were leaning.

“As far as getting a read, you don't know,” Harris said. “There's a lot of questions from the judges. Good questions. We're anticipating somewhere between 60 and 90 days. They did comment that it was an extremely complicated case because of so many issues.”

The entire appeal lasted about 45 minutes, Harris said, and when exactly a decision will be made is based on the Eighth Circuit Court’s timeline.

“I thought our attorneys did a good job of presenting the issues that we wanted them to have in front of the Eighth Circuit,” he said. “Everybody say a prayer and hopefully we get a good result.”