While it seems the Halloween costumes were just put away, it’s already time to help Pettis County families have a merry Christmas.
Community Santa, a Pettis County nonprofit organization that coordinates gifts for children in low-income families, started accepting applications Monday, and will continue accepting them through Dec. 4.
“Families can fill (applications) out on-site, it only takes five minutes at the most,” said Director Carol McMillin. “They need to bring proof of residence in Pettis County, Social Security cards for all children in the household and they need to have all their income information — a paycheck stub or if they receive food stamps or any kind of assistance so they know those numbers. … Parents also need ideas of what their children like to play with so we can personalize the gifts we round up for them.”
McMillin said Community Santa volunteers stick to the Division of Family Services guidelines in terms of need when going through applications.
McMillin said the organization has been serving an average of 600 families and 1,200 children a year for the last three years, and that the program has been in Pettis County in some form since the late 1970s. The nonprofit group is staffed strictly by volunteers and the building is donated by Webb and Sons each year, so all donations go directly to helping Pettis County families enjoy the holidays.
“We have lots of wonderful volunteers, they all give their time and there’s no salaries,” McMillin said. “They do everything from finding toys to processing applications to filling bags. You name it, they’ll do it.”
Those volunteers work hard to find sales on toys and buying in bulk to make use of monetary donations, although toy donations from citizens are welcomed. Toy boxes were distributed to local businesses Tuesday, and toy donations can be dropped off at those businesses or at the Community Santa Workshop.
In addition to brand new toys, volunteers make sure every child gets one new book and a few gently used books, along with a board game for every family to encourage spending time together.
Dec. 10 is distribution day for Community Santa, and McMillin recommended parents leave their children at home when picking up their bag of gifts — the presents are left unwrapped so parents can do with them as they please to fit their own holiday traditions.
“One of the questions we get asked is wouldn’t we be better off if we pay utility bills. That’s not the purpose of Community Santa,” McMillin said. “Community Santa has always been about giving children in this area a common ground with the rest of the children. We want them to come back from holiday break, every kid comes in and says ‘I got a Barbie doll’ or ‘I got a basketball;’ we want all children to feel like they have something to contribute — ‘I got a Barbie doll too.’
“At least with this one moment out of the year they have something in common with their classmates. It’s important giving toys to the parents so they can distribute to their children — it gives them a sense of pride and ownership. For the kids to feel like other kids, to have that pride too, that’s just as important as anything else you can give a child.”
Community Santa Workshop is located on the back side of the State Fair Shopping Center behind Bings and is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday until Dec. 4. The workshop will be closed Nov. 25-27 for Thanksgiving. 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., 65301. For more information, call 660-473-2408.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.