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Reason for the season

Clarke County Toys for Christmas program to help families in need

During the holiday season, it’s more important to give than to receive. Clarke County Toys for Christmas program is giving to those in need.

“We try to have a coordinated program for this county,” said Dianne Riley, the program’s treasurer.

How it began

Clarke County Toys for Christmas first began in 1969 by Larry Van Werden, a local attorney who realized there were children who would not be having any Christmas presents.

Since then, volunteers have organized and made the program an annual activity. Families who might need help with Christmas are identified by local organizations working together to have one program countywide. The program has no administrative costs.

Riley said letters with applications were sent out to families that might be in need this holiday season. Families may decide if they wish to participate. Children in the family need to be less than 16 years old.

Each child will receive two items of clothing and two toys. Each family will receive a ham from Osceola Foods. There will also be food vouchers for families.


Churches, organizations and individuals donate cash or new toys and clothes for the program. They also adopt families and purchase the gifts for the children.

If people want to donate to Toys for Christmas, they may donate cash, new toys and new items of clothing.

Donations may be brought to the community center, which is located in Osceola Senior Center on the north side of the building. The donation period goes throughout December.

“If they come in toward the end of December, then, of course, those would be used for the next year,” Riley said.

The Walmart Foundation has made a donation of $4,000 this year.

“That’s wonderful,” Riley said. “We made an application this past summer for that.”


The program encourages volunteers to help wrap gifts. Wrapping will take place after Thanksgiving. If people are wanting to volunteer, they should call the community center or Riley at 641-342-4681. This is to make sure wrapping is scheduled at a certain time.

The distribution of gifts is Dec. 18 and 19.

“Everything really, we hope, will be wrapped and ready to go by that Monday before the Wednesday, Thursday distribution,” Riley said.

Last year, 152 families with 399 children were helped through the program. Throughout the years, the program has helped as many as 180 families in a single year.

“I suppose the goal, really, is always to help less, if you could, because, then, that means people are doing better. … We are happy to have anybody who wants to help us,” Riley said.

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