Help Santa this Christmas

By Stephanie Taylor

Not everyone will be home for Christmas this year – an estimated 375 hurricane evacuees will be spending their holiday season in Champaign County, according to a Carle Foundation Hospital press release.

Students can help spread cheer to these victims and local residents by donating stuffed animals to the “Know How Santa Feels: Salvation Army Toy Drive.”

Carle Foundation Hospital and the Carle Clinic Association fund the project. The Salvation Army receives and distributes the toys, said Gretchen Robbins, director of public relations for the Carle Foundation.

Radio station WDWS/WHMS Lite Rock 97.5 announcer Mike Haile from “Mike in the Morning” has also supported the service over the years by being the volunteer broadcast sponsor for the event, Robbins said.

“For 20 years the Carle Clinic Association branches have been collection sites for the toys,” she said.

Michelle Rice, specialist at the Carle Foundation, said students on campus could drop off toys at any Carle Clinic location including the Pavilion on Church Street and clinics on South Mattis Avenue and West Kirby Avenue.

The sponsors of the drive are requesting new toys and will take items such as stuffed animals, sports balls, Barbies and any gifts suitable for children 12 and under, Rice said.

The toy drive usually collects more than 10,000 toys each year. However, the number of toys collected by the drive does not measure the success of the project, Robbins said.

“We really don’t have a goal,” she said. “We just want people to be as generous as they can by opening their hearts to children in the community.”

Dec. 14 is the last day of the toy drive and is also the day of Carle’s All-Day Drive Thru Toy Collection at the clinic, 1802 S. Mattis Ave.

“It’s an all day toy drive that goes from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. where anyone can just quickly drive up and drop off their unwrapped toys – it will be good for people driving on their way to and from work,” Rice said. “Radio station 97.5 will do a live show in the morning – we’ll do a large promotion and push the last day for donations.”

Jennifer Hill, social services director at the Salvation Army, believes the need for toys is especially important this year because of “an increase in clients due to hurricane evacuees in the area.”

“What greater opportunity can we provide for those this time of year,” Hill said. “Many families rely on this service for their children and we provide it to make Christmas a special memory for them.”

Carle finds an event like this incredibly important around the holidays, Rice said.

“Carle has been a friend and likes to spread charitable feelings and actions in the community,” she said. “No one wants to see a kid go without toys on Christmas Day.”