Hundreds of people converged on the Mississippi River Eagles hall in Crystal City on Dec. 22 for the annual food, cloth¬ing and toy distribution organized by Jef¬ferson County Toys and More, which has spent more than three decades collecting and distributing items to help make a bet¬ter holiday for families in need all across Jefferson County.
“We had close to 800 families sign up, and we had 557 who showed up on (Dec. 22),” said Kathy Ogle, 69, of Bloomsdale, who started the group in 1983.
“That first year, we served about 25 families,” she said. “So, yeah, it has really grown.”
More than 200 volunteers worked for weeks to gather, sort and display the moun¬tains of toys and clothing, both donated and purchased, that was made available.
The group works closely with the Jef¬ferson Franklin Community Action Cor¬poration, Toys for Tots, local food pantries and area school counselors to identify and pre-register families dealing with poverty. A common database prevents duplication. Those families are then invited to come and shop for toys and clothing to help make the children’s holidays brighter.
“Each child gets new toys, underwear and socks, gloves and hats. Each family member gets a personal hygiene bag, and each family gets a board game,” Ogle said.
Children do not come to the event; parents or guardians come and shop for their children “just like they would at a store,” Ogle said.
The event started at 8 a.m., and Ogle said parents arrived to take a number as early as 6 a.m.
“It went absolutely wonderful. Prob¬ably the biggest year as far as toys are concerned,” she said.
Ogle said she had estimated, based on the number of toys on hand, each child would receive seven.
“About 11 o’clock, we raised it to 10, and at 3 o’clock, we upped it to 12,” she said. “Teenagers were able to get extra clothing, and each family got a bag of food. “I think they had a fabulous Christmas.”
Ogle said there were some items left over, and that will form the basis of next year’s giveaway.
“The need is always there,” she said. “A lot of families have both parents employed, they just fall under that fed¬eral poverty guideline that we use. It is a struggle, especially with the cutbacks on food stamps and Medicaid.”
She said the group also sees grand¬parents who have custody of their grand¬children and are struggling, often on fixed incomes, to provide a nice Christmas for the little ones.
“That (guardian grandparents) has been on the increase the last few years,” she said.
Ogle said the event couldn’t be as successful as it is without the help of the volunteers.
“Each participant is assigned a volun¬teer, and that person walks them through the whole process, helps them shop, even helps them get the stuff out to their car,” she said. “I have one volunteer who gets here at 2 a.m. to start parking cars.”
The wider community helps, as well.
“McCain Towing brings a “side-by-side” ATV, and Oak Valley Golf Course donates the use of three carts,” Ogle said. “That’s a huge help in getting the bags and boxes of stuff out to people’s cars, because some of them have to park pretty far away.”
Ogle gave “a huge shout out” to the Eagles for the use of their facility.
“They donate the space for the whole week, while we set up and then for the event on Saturday,” she said. “We could not afford to pay for that, no way. They are just wonderful to us.”
Planning is already underway for next year’s event. For more information, to do¬nate or to be a volunteer with the program, contact Ogle at 314-520-1536.