Toys for Tots: Giving program reaches fifth year in JamestownOne of Jamestown’s real-life Santas, Toys for Tots coordinator Sheila Ova is making a list and checking it over and over again to make sure children and families in need will have a real Christmas this year.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
One of Jamestown’s real-life Santas, Toys for Tots coordinator Sheila Ova is making a list and checking it over and over again to make sure children and families in need will have a real Christmas this year.
“We have to count every toy,” Ova said, referring to a notebook filled with careful jottings tracking toys, money, children, families and volunteers involved in the effort.
This will be the fifth year for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program in Jamestown.
The idea behind the program is simple. Community members drop off new, unwrapped toys before Christmas, and they are distributed to local children who may otherwise not get any presents at all.
In addition to presents and stocking-stuffers for the kids, each family also receives a board game everyone can play together as a family.
All toys must be dropped off by Friday.
Toys for Tots operates a little differently from similar programs.
Instead of a child shopping for his or her own presents, a parent or guardian visits the Anne Carlsen Center’s gym at a scheduled time and chooses about $20 to $30 in presents for each child. The gifts are categorized by gender and by age group, and displayed a little like they would be in a store.
This year, 145 children from 60 families have signed up for Jamestown’s Toys for Tots program, and Ova is still trying to reach a few families referred to her by social services, school counselors, Head Start, Community Action and South Central Human Service Center.
Last year, there were 198 children from 80 families, Ova said.
All donations stay in the area, which generally is within 50 miles of Jamestown, unless there are extras. Those can get sent to other Toys for Tots programs if they’ve come up short.
Sometimes Toys for Tots programs trade toys with each other, too — if a Bismarck group needs toys for girls and has too many toys for boys, and the Jamestown group needs boys’ toys and has extra girls’ toys, the groups will exchange gifts.
It sounds simple enough, but Toys for Tots requires quite a bit of coordination and a great deal of help from the community, individual and business donors and volunteers.
One of Sheila’s longtime helpers is her daughter, Mona Elsner.
“It’s just nice to be able to help someone that’s in need,” Elsner said, as she restacked toys in the center of Ova’s living room.
This year there’ll be about 14 people volunteering their time on the day parents choose gifts for their children.
Last year, Toys for Tots in Jamestown distributed 1,381 toys, 398 books and 651 stocking stuffers to 80 families and 198 children.
Families who do the Cops and Kids program or the Angel Tree program cannot also receive toys from Toys for Tots, and the three organizations do communicate with each other to avoid overlap.
“It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of hair-ripping-out,” Ova said of her efforts to keep everything organized.
She believes it’s worth it, though.
“Every year we have somebody that’s so grateful they have tears of joy. People are usually very grateful,” Ova said.
In more than a few cases when Ova calls a parent who’s received gifts in previous years, the parent tells her the family is no longer in need — and offers a donation instead.
Sometimes families were simply reeling from a loss, such as a fire, financial problem or a flood, and a year made all the difference to get them back on their feet.
“We can help many, many families, and make Christmas a better and bigger deal for kids that can’t do it,” Ova said.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org