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Tis the season

Toys for Christmas helps Clarke County families in need

Toys that have been donated to the Toys for Christmas program are stacked at Osceola Senior Center.
OST photo by AMY HANSEN Toys that have been donated to the Toys for Christmas program are stacked at Osceola Senior Center.

Recently, a man came into Osceola Senior Center with a bag full of stuffed animals.

The man wanted to donate the stuffed animals to Clarke County's Toys for Christmas program.

He thought there might be children who would enjoy a stuffed animal for Christmas if they're not going to be getting a lot of gifts this year.

Dianne Riley, the program's treasurer, asked the man if he wanted his name to be put on the program's donor list.

"Oh no, it's Santa," he said.

According to Riley, many people who donate to the program are like this man.

"They don't want the recognition, but they just want to be a part of doing something to help somebody else," she said.

Toys for Christmas

Toys for Christmas is an annual program that has been in operation in Clarke County since 1969. It was started by local attorney Larry VanWerden.

The program is run entirely by volunteers. Osceola Senior Center lets the program use the space without charge and the outreach office for South Central Iowa Community Action Program (SCICAP) helps coordinated the program.

Last year, the program served 162 families, which meant it served 416 children.

Toys for Christmas aims to buy clothes and toys for each child, and makes sure each child gets the same number of gifts.

Local support

Families are given a food voucher to buy certain food items. They are also given a ham by Osceola Foods.

People may donate money to the program. Local churches also help when collecting toys, donating money, adopting families or sending volunteers.

Local stores, such as Robinsons True Value, give the program a discount for items purchased. The program purchases all its items locally in the county.

This year, the program received $1,120 from Clarke County Development Corporation, as well as a gift card from Wal-Mart Supercenter.

"Some people adopt a family," Riley said, "and then, they'll go and buy the presents and bring them to us, so then, we can distribute them."

This year's distribution dates are Dec. 19 and 20 at the senior center.

Riley said, if the families are able, they should come and pick up the gifts.

Used clothes that have been donated to the program will also be given out on the distribution days.

At the time of the interview Nov. 28, Riley said she had 125 applications for this year, but they keep coming in.

"My guess is we're going to be similar numbers or, maybe, even a few more," Riley said. "Times are hard and, so, we might be getting more than we had last year. We won't know probably till the day we distribute."


There are usually between 40 and 50 volunteers who help shop, wrap and distribute for Toys for Christmas.

Volunteers for the program come in various ages, but Riley said children aren't allowed to wrap gifts because of confidentiality reasons, especially with knowing other children who might be receiving the gifts.

However, children may help their families when choosing gifts to donate and bringing them to the senior center to be wrapped.

"I think that's so special because little kids will come in carrying a bag that you know they'd rather take it home themselves," Riley said.


According to Riley, one reason the program has lasted so many years is because of the need in the county.

"Clarke County is one of the poorer counties in Iowa … the southern tiers of counties are the poorer counties, so I think there's more need here," she said. "And, I think, people are so generous in this particular county. If you need something, you just need to know who to call, because people always will step up and help out, and they want to help their neighbors, especially children."


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