By Deb Gau
MARSHALL – “The looks I get are the most fun,” Charisse Meyer said. Of course, when you come to the store checkout with a huge load of toys and winter clothes, you’re bound to turn heads. By Monday afternoon, Meyer said she had made three shopping trips to local businesses, and she wasn’t finished yet.
“I’m going to go back out tonight and get snow boots,” she said.
The piles of gifts Meyer brought back to the offices of Western Community Action in Marshall will be given to more than 100 area families in need this Christmas. And while the shopping spree to buy them has become something of a holiday tradition for Meyer, she was quick to point out that she’s not acting alone. Donations from area truck drivers and trucking companies, as well as many other area businesses, make the giving possible.
“We have a great time, and it’s such a great cause,” Meyer said.
Meyer, safety director at Eickhoff Enterprises, serves as an area captain for Trucks and Toys, a holiday charity program sponsored by the Minnesota Trucking Association. Since 2006, the Marshall area Trucks and Toys program has partnered with WCA to help families in its service area.
Trucks and Toys is a statewide program. But Meyer said when she was asked to be area captain seven years ago, she wanted to make sure that gifts were distributed locally. WCA seemed like a good choice for a partner organization, she said, because the Head Start preschool program there works with families across a five-county area.
Often, the families who are helped by Trucks and Toys wouldn’t be able to have Christmas presents otherwise, Head Start staff said.
“Our families are really grateful,” said Kim Steinbronn, family support coordinator for Head Start.
Meyer said the area Trucks and Toys program starts out each year with a list of children in need, along with their ages and genders. Head Start teachers help to identify families for the program, as well as each family’s needs, said Head Start Director Gail Goltz. Then Meyer collects donations. Many come from individual truck drivers, as well as area trucking companies.
“Truckers are really giving people,” Meyer said. “My guys love doing (Trucks and Toys).” Sometimes, the drivers are the ones asking her when the collection will start.
Meyer said this year, Eickhoff Enterprises worked together with Bradley Trucking, Viessman Trucking, Schak Trucking in Tyler, BlackJack Express in Wood Lake, and SPEI, a company that hauls for Turkey Valley Farms, to raise money and donate gifts. Marshall businesses also play a big part in the Trucks and Toys drive. In the past couple of years, she said, a long list of local businesses have helped by donating supplies, money and even gifts, as well as offering discounts for toys and winter clothes.
One of the good things about the program, Meyer said, is the low overhead cost. “Everything is spent on the kids,” she said.
Once all the gifts are waiting at the WCA office, Head Start teachers pick out age-appropriate presents for both Head Start kids and their siblings, and bring them to parents to wrap. It’s a fun experience for everyone involved, Goltz said.
When teachers are selecting gifts for the kids, she said, “They’re kind of like Santa.”
“I’m not normally a shopper,” Meyer said, but it’s always fun to go pick out Trucks and Toys gifts. “It’s not for me, it’s for the kids.”
That’s what makes it all worthwhile, she said.