OWATONNA — For three decades, Don Overlie worked as a teacher in Owatonna. Clearly showing a passion for helping the youth in his community, it was no surprise when he decided to devote part of his retirement to helping the local Toys for Tots organization.
Steele County Toys for Tots has been operating within the National U.S. Marine Corp Reserve Toys for Tots program for 37 years. Its objective is to collect and distribute new and unwrapped toys to Steele County needy children at Christmas.
In 2018, the local chapter served 1,226 children.
“It shows me what this community really is,” Overlie said about the program. “It is a very caring, very giving, and very positive community. I am very proud.”
Since 2001, Overlie has volunteered for the program and has been able to watch its natural evolution. Over the last 18 years, Overlie has become the assistant coordinator for the program, runs the check-in desk on distribution days, and has seen Toys for Tots collaborate with other programs dedicated to ensuring happy holidays for all local children.
“When I first got involved, Toys for Tots had their program of toys and Family to Family had a program of clothing, toys, and food cards,” Overlie said, explaining that Family to Family was a program run by social services until there were some changes in management a number of years ago. “We literally came together and thought that the program was important enough to keep it running, so now we have that.”
Technically, Toys for Tots is not able to distribute food, clothing, gift cards, or cash, but the new process allows there to be on single application for the two programs. The application also covers the Angel Tree and Adopt a Family programs, all charitable ways to provide for children in need during Christmas time.
“We serve more people this way,” Overlie said. “Whatever it takes, we’ll do it.”
Applications for the Steele County Toys for Tots — as well as the other programs — are now being accepted through Dec. 6 and can be picked up at various locations throughout the county. Those locations include the Blooming Prairie Public Library, Lerberg’s Foods in Ellendale, the Ellendale Food Shelf, First National Bank of Hope, 1st State Bank of Red Wing in Medford, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern MN, Minnesota Prairie County Alliance, the Owatonna Public Library, the Salvation Army in Owatonna, the Steele County Food Shelf and Clothesline, Steele County Public Health, Steele County Employment Services, and churches throughout the county.
Children must be 15-years-old and younger as of Dec. 31, 2019 and those school-aged must be attending school. Applications must be completed by the parents and guardians and should be mailed to Steele County Toys for Tots P.O. Box 199, Owatonna, MN 55060. Applications can also be dropped off at the Steele County Food Shelf and Clothesline or placed in the drop box at Minnesota Prairie County Alliance. Emailed applications will not be accepted.
Applications that are mailed in by Nov. 13 will also qualify for the Family to Family program. Applications submitted after that deadline will only qualify for toys.
Boxes for Toys for Tots donations will be placed Oct. 28-30.