The St. Charles Parish Toy and Gift Fund had their biggest year ever as more than 1,400 children streamed through the Edward A. Dufresne Community Center in Luling to receive gifts, a book and a bite to eat.
The event has been held yearly since the early 1980s, but every year it gets bigger and better. Now, low-income parish children and their families are able to pick out toys, play games and enjoy food - all at no cost.
The toy giveaway, run by the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), receives assistance from Valero, the United Way of St. Charles, the Rotary Club of St. Charles Parish and the Times-Picayune.
Former RSVP director Fay Caire said the event is a great program that brings together the entire community for a positive purpose.
“It’s a great intergenerational program because we utilize the RSVP volunteers that are 55 and older who actually send out the invitations to the schools. The school counselors identify all of the children that they feel are most at need and then we work with the high schools and the local junior high schools to find students to act as the elves. They do a wonderful job,” she said.
RSVP director Michelle Higgins, who is in her first year in charge of the program, said the turnout for the event was rewarding.
“This is just another wonderful thing St. Charles Parish does for the community. It definitely puts smiles on a lot of little faces,” she said.
Higgins was especially thankful for the numerous volunteers assisting in the process.
“We have the RSVP volunteers here and then I have a large group of Valero workers who volunteer every year for this. Valero is a big help and we probably couldn’t do it without them,” she said.
One of those volunteers, Denise Allotto, a document control analyst in the engineering department at Valero, has been volunteering for the past seven years. She spent her time directing foot traffic as families entered the community center.
For her, preparation for the event began back in October and included decorating the new environment and shopping for all of the children.
“You’ve got to get your volunteers and you’ve got to come over here and have a meeting and see what they need. We also do the toy shopping, which we did on Thursday,” Allotto said.
Despite all of the hard work, Allotto said she looks forward to helping every year.
“I love giving back and helping the unfortunate,” she said. It is apparent the hard work paid off with hundreds of smiling faces and happy families.
Camille Tillman accompanied her daughter and grandson to the event. It was their third year attending.
“It’s to help the kids who are at a lower income feel special and feel nice for Christmas,” she said. “I think it is very nice for them to do this for the community and I’m glad to see they have a line for those who don’t have tickets and they can still take part in it.”
Sandra Navarro and her daughter Abigail held gifts and made their way through the lunch line preparing to eat chili dogs and chips provided by Valero volunteers.
“I appreciate that they give the presents to the kids. I know my kid really appreciates it,” Navarro said.
Tasha Young, who brought her two children, was stunned by how many people volunteered to help the less fortunate.
“It’s very important. It is very helpful too and it is set up nice,” she said.
Families who were unable to make it to the event can still receive gifts by calling (985) 783-8907.
“We actually give out toys until Christmas Eve,” Caire said. “If we find out about any needy families in the immediate area, we make sure they are taken care of this Christmas because that is what it is all about. Christmas is for the kids.”