Santa's Helpers Busy To Brighten Holidays

By: Katie Stukey Email
By: Katie Stukey Email
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Toys are piling up across the metro as several agencies prepare to make the holidays a lot brighter for families in need.

The bins are beginning to disappear as crews collect donated toys. The Marine Corps is sorting through a warehouse worth of toys at 30th and Laurel to hand out across Nebraska. This mission began in September. Before any toys start to roll in they calculate how many families have applied. They break it down by age and gender and by each individual agency that helps distribute the toys.

“The warehouse is empty and then you think to yourself, how are we going to fill this warehouse?” said Toys For Tots coordinator Gunnery Sgt. Jack Crews. “How are we going to meet these needs? You're a little worried for it and then whenever you start seeing everything come in then it's a little bit of relief, but then you go, oh my God, look at all these toys.”

They've already delivered more than 6,000 presents in the Lincoln area alone. When all is said and done, some 20,000 children will each have at least two new toys in hand.

"To be able to pass these toys out, all the hard work you put into it for these three to four months, you see the ending result and to see a child's face that probably wasn't expecting something this year and to get something, it's an awesome, awesome feeling,” said Gunnery Sgt. Crews.

Most of the toys will be handed out by nonprofit groups that work directly with those in need. United Way helps organize that effort by keeping a database of families who've applied, so there's no doubling up and the presents can go to as many families as possible.

Family Housing Advisory Services is one the groups helping to make sure the toys are going to families who really need them. All the work is clearly worth it once they can put those gifts in the hands of the children. “They're so excited, they want to know what's in the bag, they want to know if Santa's real, they have so many questions and the look of joy in the face is just wonderful,” said Cheryl Mix of Family Housing Advisory Services.

Charlie Graham Auto Repair and Body Shop in Omaha is one of several spots where you can drop off toys for Project Santa, the Open Door Mission's toy drive, and this year, they need help to deliver gifts to 6,000 kids. Some toys have already arrived, but they're hoping donations pick up in this last week. The one-day sign-up for families to be included in Project Santa lasted more than 12 hours because so many people showed up. The mission is facing a growing need on all fronts, which means they need more help than usual.

“We've never had a situation where children were not able to get toys because those toys will come in and we know those toys will come in and the volunteers that are here sorting and bagging toys, we could not do it without them,” said a volunteer named James. “It takes thousands and thousands of volunteers to make this program successful."

Some age groups are not well represented in collection bins, like 1-to-4-year-olds and teenagers as shopping for them is more difficult. Some of the needed items include watches, bath sets and makeup.

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