Army of volunteers gives away 2,000 gifts to area children
Before the sun peeked above the Ozark County hills Saturday, an army of Santa’s helpers were awake and scurrying about, doing their part for the annual Ozark County Toy Drive.
In all, more than 80 volunteers, including 40 students, rustled together the makings of the magical event, held annually in the old senior center building on Third Street in Gainesville.
At 9 a.m., the doors opened, and by 1 p.m. about 2,000 gifts had been chosen, wrapped and loaded into vehicles to be driven to area homes, where they will reappear under trees around the county on Christmas Day.
“I thought it all went really well. I was really pleased, and there were some really nice presents given away,” chairperson Nancy Walker told the Times. “This year we had more young folks than ever helping out. All the workers were really enthusiastic, taking on jobs I’m sure they’ve never done before. They were very patient and pleasant, carrying packages to cars and doing other jobs.”
Walker said she hasn’t received the official tally of how many parents, grandparents or other guardians attended, but she believes there were about 70 to 75 adults who took Christmas presents home to around 400 children.
Each parent got one large “draw” item from a collection of bicycles, tricycles and wagons. They could also choose one larger gift valued at $10 to $20 plus three or four “stocking stuffer” gifts, Walker said.
A handmade stocking, sewn by the members of the Friendly Neighbors Extension Club and filled with candy, Rice Krispy treats, lip balm and a pencil, was given to parents for each child.
Walker said every family also received one or two board games, coloring books and crayons, reading books, their choice of a winter sled or a gift card to Dollar General or Town & Country and what she calls a “jelly bag” containing groceries including peanut butter, jelly, macaroni and cheese and other snacks.
Additional stations at the toy drive provided parents with new pillows, pillow cases, home decor, new and gently used clothing, new undergarments, teddy bears, bean bag toys and Christmas decorations.
“Of course, everything is free to them. We want them to take it all home to make Christmas merry and bright for their children, or their grandchildren if they’re raising them,” Walker said.
Once the parents chose their children’s gifts, a volunteer carried them all to the wrapping station, where more volunteers carefully wrapped each gift. The volunteers then carried all the wrapped items to the parents’ cars and loaded them.
The building was buzzing with excitement until the event began winding down around 1 p.m.
“Then, just as we were loading stuff up, this mama came driving in,” Walker said.
The mother, who was not able to be at the event earlier in the day, spoke with Walker about the six children she is trying to find Christmas gifts for.
“So, I’m working with her now, and I’m going to get those kids some presents and get them to her later this week,” Walker said. “If a mama or a daddy ever can’t come, they can call me, and we can work something out. Or if they can’t be there but another family member can come with a handwritten note from the mom, that will work too.”
Walker says she’s taking a little break, and then she’ll be back at it, planning and purchasing gifts for next year’s event. Walker says area stores will begin to contact her around the end of January to help her purchase toys and gifts at deep discounts when after-Christmas sales begin.
“We couldn’t possibly pull this off without a great many hands and kind hearts,” Walker said. “I couldn’t possibly name everyone who has a hand in this – clubs, organizations, churches, individuals – there’s just a lots of hands that make it work. Ozark County is a very, very kind-hearted community. It couldn’t happen any other way.”
The Ozark County Toy Drive is completely donation- and volunteer-run. Monetary donations are being accepted now for the 2020 Ozark County Toy Drive. To make a financial contribution, write checks to Ozark County Toy Drive and mail them to Century Bank of the Ozarks, PO Box 68, Gainesville, MO 65655.