Even though Jack ‘O Lanterns are still sitting on front porches, Santa’s Workshop is already open in Sedalia, ready to help Pettis County children have a happy holiday season.
Pettis County Community Santa provides gifts to children in low-income families, based on the Family Support and Children’s Division’s poverty guidelines, and families can begin signing up for assistance today, Nov. 1. Families should bring proof of Pettis County residency, a Social Security card for each child they’re applying for, and information about all income they receive, such as from a job, SNAP benefits or other financial aid.
Then comes the fun part.
“In filling out the application, we will ask them to tell us things their child specifically likes to play with. We work hard to gear this to each individual child,” said Community Santa board member Carol McMillin. “You may have someone that likes Tinker Toys or someone who likes Play-Doh. Not every girl gets the same toys, not every boy gets the same toys.”
Children also have the opportunity to receive their first bicycle through Community Santa, thanks to the annual bike drive hosted by Dale Malone, owner of Dukes and Boots.
“That first bike is a really big deal,” McMillin said. “We would like to see that happen. If it’s a child’s first time to have a bike (one can be requested). If you get bike that’s the only toy they receive, but it’s a nice bike, a great present.”
In addition to the children’s requested gifts, each child will receive two new books, a stuffed animal, and each family will receive at least one board game to play as a family.
The family will also receive the start of a holiday meal, either a basket of nonperishable food, a gift certificate to get groceries or a combination. Elderly or disabled citizens can also apply to receive help with a holiday meal.
“We give all these things to the parents, wrapped in big black non-see-through bag,” McMillin said. “Then it’s the parents giving the toys to their children, it gives them a sense of worth and pride back; they’re providing to the children rather than an entity outside the family.”
In 2015, Community Santa served more than 600 families, including 1,365 children, McMillin said. She said 2015 saw roughly 100 additional children helped by the organization, and she said the board expects numbers to increase again this year.
To help accommodate those additional families, citizens can donate money or toys to the cause in a number of ways.
“Money donations are always accepted, and there’s no donation too small and or too large because our need is great,” McMillin said. “… Lots of people like to take their children shopping and make it a pay-it-forward thing, show their children what it’s like to shop for toys for other children.”
Another option is to adopt a family. McMillin said they do their best to pair donors up with families matching a particular description.
“We’ll have a single mom with two children and she’ll tell us she’d like to adopt another single mom with two kids,” McMillin explained. “It might be an elderly couple and they’d like to have a family with several children. You can be specific about what type of family, it makes it more personal. We provide contact information and you can get very specific with that family with what you can do. Adopting is a really big part of our program.”
McMillin noted that Community Santa is a nonprofit organization operated by volunteers, so all donations go directly to families in need.
“Our feeling is we can’t be everything to everyone, we don’t have money to pay rent — we’re feeding the soul, we’re making the families have a sense of similarity to their peers so when school goes back in session and Johnny sits next to you and says ‘I got a new toy,’ you’ve got something to say,” McMillin said. “Just something so you have a similar experience, we think that’s important.”
Events will be hosted by various organizations and businesses during November to support Community Santa. The first will be the third annual Jingle and Mingle Holiday Shopping Bazaar from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Convention Hall at Liberty Park, which will be taking donations for Community Santa.
Applicants can stop by Santa’s Workshop, located on the back side of the State Fair Shopping Center, to sign up from Nov. 1 to Dec. 2.
Donations can be dropped off at any toy donation site or at the workshop, and monetary donations can also be mailed to PO Box 43, Sedalia, Mo., 65302-0043. For more information, call 660-473-2408 or find Pettis County Community Santa on Facebook.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.