Free toys make Christmas merrier for hundreds of children

Parish’s Toy and Gift Fund spreads holiday cheer

Children darted around Saturday in search of new toys and interacted with elves, Santa Claus and even Batman on a day directed toward a great cause.

“Everything’s always good with this,” said Jeremy Kerney of Luling, who along with his wife, Ashley, brought their children Jasmine, Jordan and Jeremiah to the annual St. Charles Parish holiday Toy and Gift Fund giveaway at the Edward Dufresne Community Center. “The parish gives back to the community … we’ve come for the past few years and we’ve been enjoying it each time.”

The Toy and Gift Fund was founded in the 1980s as a means to ensure as many children as possible can enjoy receiving gifts at Christmas time, particularly when for many families, purchasing gifts may not be realistic because of financial constraints. A major toy drive is held each December for the event, and names of children whose families might be in need are provided by the St. Charles Parish school system.

A child receiving presents at the parish’s Toy and Gift Fund.

Each year, mounds of toys — more than 1,000, in fact — are stacked high on bleachers surrounding the gym walls of the community center. Each of the children who attend get to participate in a fun holiday event where they can take pictures with Santa, play holiday-themed games for prizes and pick out an age appropriate book and a toy.

“They’re wonderful gifts,” said local mother Tessa Turner. “The pictures with Santa were very nice … everything was set up so well and it’s always a nice event for the kids. They help those who are unfortunate and unable to get gifts or buy gifts, and they also help those who have so many kids as well and might struggle during the holidays. It kind of works out for everyone.”

Despite the event falling on a very rainy day — the second straight year of inclement weather after it fell on a snowy weekend last year — there was a strong turnout. According to Michelle Higgins, director of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program which runs the Toy and Gift Fund, the parish was able to provide 724 children with gifts and gave out more than 1,440 toys in total.

This year was the first that each child was able to receive two toys to go along with a book. Each child receives the latter to encourage reading and literacy.

Children were able to play games, take pictures with Santa Claus, Batman and Robin and enjoy some good food before taking their newfound toys home with them.

“They help those who are unfortunate and unable to get gifts or buy gifts. It kind of works out for everyone” – Tessa Turner

Higgins credited support from several sources, including United Way of St. Charles, the Times Picayune Doll and Toy Fund and the Rotary Club, including financial support and toy donations. She also credited Valero for providing volunteer support and food for both parents and children attending the event. She also said volunteers from RSVP, St. Charles Parish Public Schools and various community groups went a long way to making the event run so smoothly.

Higgins said those efforts are a big part of why the event has grown as much as it has since it began more than 20 years

“Several local business people and concerned citizens wanted to give to the children in the parish during Christmas,” Higgins said.  “Our parish is very blessed and we are very fortunate with the resources we have here. It is only fitting that we continue to give back to those who need the extra help.

“Folks today struggle during the holidays just like they did years ago. Our population has grown so it makes sense to grow the event. From the committee to the volunteers and everyone involved, we have one common desire, to help those children of the parish have a Merry Christmas.”

Toy & Gift Fund, by the numbers

  • 724 children served in 2018
  • More than 1,440 toys given out
  • Event directed by parish’s Retired and Senior Volunteer program
  • 2018 event represents the first year each child received two toys
  • Toy drive held every year in preparation
  • United Way of St. Charles, Valero among sponsors
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