Santa’s Helpers

“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.” These poignant words of American actress, singer, songwriter Dale Evans are being taken to heart by three Saline County organizations working together to love and give to others in our community.

For the past five years, The Dixie Car Club, the Kiwanis Club of Saline County, and Benton Middle School’s Elf Club have worked together to provide toys for thousands of families. Last year alone the group’s combined efforts served 900 families and 1150 children. Fundraising to purchase Christmas toys is an ongoing process and each club begins its fundraising activities soon after toys are distributed for the current year.

The Dixie Car Club began planning the details of their main fundraiser, the annual car show, in March 2013. The car show held in October is in its 35th year, but according to Dixie Car Club member Bill Newsam, attendance this year was low because of bad weather. “This year’s event was rained out, so we didn’t raise as much money as we normally do, but we like being a positive part of Saline County and helping those in our community, so some of us are going to contribute personally to make up the difference.”

The group has also scheduled a Toy Cruise in December. Club members will caravan from the Saline County Fairgrounds to Courthouse Square where their unique vehicles will be on display. The public is invited to bring a $10.00 toy and enjoy the chance to see vintage automobiles while helping out with the toy drive. The club boasts a wide variety of cars and trucks including a 1913 Model T Ford and models from every decade through the nineties. “Most people really enjoy seeing our collection. Many will tell us that a particular car or truck will remind them of a special memory,” says Newsam. The date and time of the Toy Cruise will be announced at a later time in the Saline Courier.

Lisa Thornton has been a member of the Kiwanis Club of Saline County for nine years and has chaired the toy drive now for the last five years. “I was approached by Bill Newsam from the Dixie Car Club whom I have known for years. He told me the club had decided to donate the toys and money to the children in Saline County. The Dixie Car Club plays a big role in helping buy toys for the older children, age 13-15 year olds. They buy the electronic items like MP3 players and electronic dart boards. What a big help they are!”

The sole mission of the Kiwanis Club is helping children in Saline County, and the Christmas project brings joy to every member. Lisa remembers one of the most touching and memorable years for her:

“My son, Jacob Crockett, was in his senior year at Fayetteville and brought several of his friends to our toy drive to help out with distribution for the older kids. Jacob was handing out electronic items and had one MP3 player left. There was a young boy searching for a gift to choose and when Jacob handed him the MP3 player, I saw the boy’s eyes light up and I knew then that this toy drive touched my son’s heart as it does mine each year. That is something that I will never forget seeing my son really getting the meaning of giving back to our community.”

Often parents will come alone to pick out the toys for their children but Kiwanis Club members consider it a blessing to be able to watch the children look through all the toys and pick out something for Christmas.

The Kiwanis Club has held fundraisers including Call the Hogs for a Cause and auctioned off a painting to raise money. The group will have toy boxes set up for collection of new unwrapped toys at the Saline County locations of Summit Bank, Thomas Insurance, First Security Bank, Bank of Ozarks and Farmers Bank & Trust. According to Thornton, community involvement is really necessary this year. “We expect there to be more families to serve this year, so all donations will be greatly appreciated.”

The Benton Middle School Elf Club begins fundraising at the end of each school year for the following Christmas. Through a combination of fundraisers including selling Butter Braids and scented pencils, and events such as a Christmas Dance and “Chore Weekend”, the club raises funds in excess of $20,000 to buy gifts for infants through middle school aged children in our community.

The Benton Middle School Elf Club began in the mid-90’s as the CHAMPS club, sponsored by Donna Gattin. In the early days of the club, the students chose raising money to help others at Christmas as just one of their many projects, but not the primary focus. The first year the club raised an impressive $3,000. In 1994, Yvonne Cates became sponsor of the club and the amount collected to purchase Christmas gifts skyrocketed to $15,000. Eventually, the name changed to the Elf Club with over 800 kids having participated in the club.

In December, The Dixie Car Club, Kiwanis Club and Elf Club pool monies raised through countless hours of service and schedule “shopping day”. When it’s time to shop, students in the Elf Club are divided into groups and each group is given a certain amount of money to spend and assigned an age group for either boys or girls. After the shopping is complete, members of the various clubs further sort the toys according to toy size. The purchases are given to Churches Joint Council on Human Needs (CJOHN) to distribute the toys to families in Saline County just in time for Christmas. CJCOHN begins taking applications in November for food baskets they give away on the same day as the toy distribution.

Even after the toy distribution is over, if the group is made aware of a family who was unable to come to the distribution, or is in need of Christmas gifts for their children, arrangements will be made to help. They do this because the members of The Dixie Car Club, Kiwanis Club of Saline County and the Elf Club are working together to make sure children in Saline County have a gift and understand the that Christmas is love in action.