(Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette)
Just such a bug infected McCook Mayor Dennis Berry back in July, when he donated funds to cover the deposit needed to secure Memorial Auditorium for the annual Coat Closet and Toy Box giveaway. As those bugs have a tendency to do, the infection spread when the McCook Community Foundation drew his compassionate act from the many submitted for their Random Acts of Kindness Award. The Mayor's nomination was submitted anonymously and as a result, the McCook Toy Box received a $250 gift from the McCook Community Foundation Fund.
That's not the first time the MCFF has helped the McCook Toy Box, according to organizer Barb Ostrum. "Not only have we received monetary gifts from them, but also our affiliation with the McCook Community Foundation Fund has helped us with a non-profit status. That allows gifts to the McCook Toy Box be tax-deductible for the donor and also allows us to apply for grants we otherwise would not be eligible for."
The McCook Toy Box came into existence more than 40 years ago, according to Ostrum, when Dr. Joe Magrath and the late Sharon Snyder began giving away new toys under the name "Toys for Tots" by invitation only. Through the years, the mission has expanded, as well as the participation by volunteers.
This year's toy collection will begin shortly, and the giveaway will take place on Sunday, Dec. 16 at the City Auditorium
Ostrum, who has been working with the program for 21 years, said that a group of retired volunteers, Jim Sailors, Tom Buresh, Roger Musgrave, Pat Burns, and Lynn Ohlson, have taken over the bike repair and refurbish duties from Bill Stewart. They average about $1,200 each year to fix the many bikes that are donated to the organization. This year, the group has 135 bikes ready for the give away.
The McCook Toy Box also collects gently used toys from the community, and about 50-60 volunteers clean, sort and help with the distribution. This year's toy drive will focus on "back to the basics" toys, according to Ostrum -- books, games, board games, dolls, and trucks. "The electronic toys are nice, but many times they become obsolete and replacement parts are not available," she said.
The McCook Toy Box uses monetary donations to fill in the voids, purchasing new toys if they are short on supply for a particular age group or gender. "We try really hard to purchase everything locally," said Ostrum.
"We are unique," said Ostrum, "because we are the only program in the State of Nebraska that gives away used toys with no questions asked. You don't need a referral; you don't need to be enrolled in another program; you don't even have to sign up. We do not require that you be from McCook or even Nebraska. If you need a gift for a child, you simply need to show up on the give-away day." Many toy give-away programs require recipients to be enrolled in food stamps or Aide to Dependent Children. But the organizers of the McCook Toy Box recognize that many people struggle to make ends meet, including parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, but they still want a part in making Christmas morning a special time for the children in their lives.
The new toy give-away is limited to parents only, and information will be recorded to receive new toys, but there are no pre-qualifications. Last year, 655 children received new toys thanks to the McCook Toy Box and the many volunteers and donors who make it possible.
That results in many incredibly infectious and transmittable smiles to bless the area this holiday season.