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story.lead_photo.caption From left, Shelly Hittner, Jo Anderson and Father Don Antweiler, of Immaculate Conception Church in Jefferson City, look over puzzles that were contributed to the church's new Parish Puzzle Lending Program. Photo by Gerry Tritz / News Tribune.

For Jack O'Donnell's family, puzzles served as a form of enjoyment and family bonding for years. So when O'Donnell's children were recently helping their dad downsize, they asked Immaculate Conception Church if they could make use of the family puzzle collection.

"I think working puzzles was something that their family did when they got together for Christmas, so it was a multi-generational kind of activity," parishioner Jo Anderson said. "And I think their thought originally was that the COVID-19 had really isolated people and families might be looking for some other kind of diversion or alternative activity that they could still do together."

So the church used the 60-puzzle collection as an opportunity to create a new program: the Parish Puzzle Lending Library.

Parish members can take a puzzle, work it and bring it back to the church. It's a fun, lighthearted program but one that still falls under the scope of the parish's Disaster Response Committee.

Father Don Antweiler said IC, like other churches in the diocese, have disaster response committees that attend to people's needs in the wake of floods, last year's tornado, and now the pandemic. The committees help people through mercy and charity, he said.

"They've been really instrumental in reaching out to all members of the parish to working with other churches around here, and reaching out to Lincoln University," he said.

Among other things, the committee calls members of the parish to see if they have any needs.

The puzzle lending library started last week, and have been getting a good response from church members.

Daisy Delight, a local eatery/ice cream shop east of the church, has even sponsored the program, offering free ice cream cones to the first five families or individuals to complete a puzzle.

The collection features many puzzles with 300 or 500 pieces and some up to 1,000.

Already, two have claimed the prize. The first completion was under 12 hours, Anderson said.

Shelly Hittner has helped to implement the program and has pumped it up on social media.

"Maybe that will encourage more donations of other people's puzzles if they want, because this can still grow," Hittner said.

Some parish members have already brought in puzzles to boost the offerings, she said.

Puzzles have proven popular during the pandemic. Marketplace.org reported this spring that puzzle sales were up 370 percent. Part of their appeal is that they're simple, therapeutic and tech-free, the website said.

Hittner said one of the two who have already completed a puzzle is a teenage girl in the parish. Hittner said the girl turned her puzzle in and said, "This is so much fun, I can't wait to do my next one."

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