Her aunt calls her “Santa in the flesh with a heart of gold,” but she’s also a Santa Ninja when it comes to collecting toy donations and this year she delivered more than 335 of them for Access Health’s toy giveaway tomorrow (Dec. 14) in Kenner.
“It feels crazy,” said Amber Dillenkoffer, a junior at Destrehan High School. “When people donate money and I go to the store and pick out toys, I’m like a kid in a candy store,” she said. “But the biggest thrill is definitely being there, asking them what they want to play with it and helping them get the toy. The biggest thrill is seeing them happy.”
Since she was 13 years old, Dillenkoffer has collected toys every year and every year more people have jumped in to help, including people from five other states. Some contributed with the promise if she needed help with meeting her goal to call them and they’d help make it happen, but that hasn’t happened yet.
This year is her fifth toy collection, and momentum seems to just keep building for Santa’s helper (the nickname her family has given her).
Her first year’s goal was 50 toys, but she got 100. Every year since that time she’s raised her goal and exceeded it.
Dillenkoffer said presents were carried in two vehicles to Esplanade Mall for the giveaway, having moved them from just about every spare inch of space in her home.
“I’ve had them in our bathtub before,” she said. “They’re usually all over the house. I try to confine them to one room, but that doesn’t always work out.”
This year, she planned on getting 315 toys, but she’s at 335 and counting. A last-minute cash donation sent her back to the store.
What feels like a Christmas Olympic event in toy collecting is actually Dillenkoffer’s way of getting a smile. And, yes, she already knows next year’s goal will be 350 toys, but she readily explains this all means so much more to her than just numbers.
Her earlier toy deliveries were to Toys for Tots in St. Rose and, by 2016, she started bringing them to Access Health’s toy giveaway, which is 11 a.m. at Esplanade Mall. She’s brought so many toys for the giveaway that Access Health has presented her with plaques and invites her to the giveaway to help children pick their toys.
It’s all a thrill to Dillenkoffer.
“I plan to continue doing this until I physically can’t do more,” she said. “I can see myself doing it until I die. For 16 years, I’ve gotten everything I wanted and I just want to give kids what I’ve had. It brings me so much joy, and just seeing the kids pick out a toy and find what they’re looking for is so fulfilling. I actually love it.”