OWATONNA – The beginning of December is commonly a hectic time of year for most people, and those helping coordinate the area’s largest toy donation are no exception.
After finishing up their turkey dinners on Thursday, a plethora of volunteers left their families and gathered at Target, Walmart and Kohl’s in Owatonna to spend the rest of their Thanksgiving holiday shopping for kids they will never know. On Friday morning, they woke up and did it all over again at Fleet Farm.
These people are the first of what will be hundreds of volunteers for the Steele County Toys for Tots program. The program has been operating within the National U.S. Marine Corp Reserve Toys for Tots program for 37 years with an objective to collect and distribute new and unwrapped toys to underprivileged Steele County children at Christmas. In 2018, the local chapter served 1,226 children. After the volunteers finished up shopping last week, organizers are hopeful that number will grow even more.
“In total we spent $14,000 on toys,” said Don Overlie, the assistant coordinator for the local Toys for Tots. “And that is just what we spent – not the retail amount. I would think because of the deals you could probably multiple that by 140%.”
Each year, the Toys for Tots crew keeps an eye out for the best Black Friday deals – which now famously begin on Thanksgiving Day – so that they may be better prepared for their distribution days in December. Using monetary donations received throughout the year, the volunteers shop from a list based on what the program projects will be their biggest needs for the year across all ages.
During this year’s shopping trip, Overlie stated they were able to come out with some fantastic deals, including 60 new bicycles. Overlie added that the program is able to purchase the bikes and other much-needed items due to area fundraising events such as the Bikers of Blooming Prairie annual run and the American Legion cookie auction.
As the Toys for Tots group continues to prepare for the big distribution days that are just two weeks out, Overlie stated that the applications are slightly below what they normally would be at this time of the season. Time is running out, too, as the mailed-in applications are due Friday, Dec. 6.
“Friday is our deadline for putting applications in the mail,” Overlie reiterated. “It is also the deadline for the Family to Family application.”
The Family to Family program distributes clothing, food cards, and other items that the Toys for Tots program cannot distribute. Years ago, Overlie explained that the programs ran separately until they realized that a partnership between the programs was the obvious thing to do.
“It’s been fun working with them,” Overlie said, stating that the Steele County Food Shelf heads up that portion of the program. “It’s been a natural fit.”
The single application also covers the Angel Tree and Adopt a Family programs – all charitable ways to provide for children in need during Christmas time.
Overlie said that though the numbers of applications received are done a bit this year that a lot can change in a manner of only a day or two. He added that the expects to get quite a few by the end of the week.
“If people miss the deadline, we will open up the applications again on the evening of Dec. 16 and all day on Dec. 17,” Overlie added. “That will be done in person at the church.”
Those wishing to register in person can do so at Trinity Lutheran Church – the same location as the gift distribution – from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 16, and from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 17.
Applications are available for download online on the Steele County Toys for Tots website at Owatonna-mn.toysfortots.org. However, parents/guardians must print, fill out and mail the applications to Steele County Toys for Tots at P.O. Box 199, Owatonna, MN 55060; emailed applications will not be accepted. 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.
Parents and guardians will be contacted by mail about the date and time they will select toys for their children. Distribution will be held on Dec. 16-18 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna.
Hard copies of the 2019 Toys for Tots applications are available at Blooming Prairie Public Library, Lerberg’s Foods in Ellendale, Ellendale Food Shelf, First National Bank of Hope, 1st State Bank of Red Wing in Medford, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern MN in Owatonna, Minnesota Prairie County Alliance, Owatonna Public Library, Salvation Army in Owatonna, Steele County Food Shelf and Clothesline in Owatonna, Steele County Public Health, Steele County Employment Services, and churches throughout the county.