LAKEWOOD - Santa is getting a little bit of help this year from a source he has counted on for more than a decade.
The Highway Superintendent Association recently held its annual Toys For Kids benefit. Like years past, the group was able to donate a significant amount of toys and funds to the Salvation Army.
Doug Peterson, vice president of Southern Tier Supply Co. and coordinator of the event, was ecstatic about the overall turnout of the benefit.
Pictured, from left, are: County Executive Greg Edwards, Melvin Peterson, Maj. Doug Hart, Doug Peterson, Lt. Laura Gonzalez, Greg Hallberg, Lt. Daniel Gonzalez, Tim Card, Larry Mee and David Babcock.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
"I started this thing 11 years ago," said Peterson. "When the (Highway Superintendent Association) has their meetings, we would normally have to pay $20 to come to the meeting and pay for dinner. So instead, I proposed that we bring a toy to donate, and that gets you in the door and dinner. This thing started out (very small) and it's grown into something enormous. On the average, we have been raising anywhere from 500 to 600 toys. We'll also raise money for the Salvation Army's red kettle."
Peterson said that initially, he was unsure of how successful the benefit would be this year due to hard economic times and delaying planning. However, once he saw the turnout, he could not have been happier.
"These guys pulled through again big time," said Peterson. "A little tear comes out of your eye when they reach out the way they did. ... I think today we had 110 people show up."
Included with those in attendance was Greg Edwards, Chautauqua County executive.
"Every good project needs someone to be the champion and invest the time in it," said Edwards. "Anyone that would hear about this would say, 'what a great idea' and just expect it to magically take place. Doug has made sure that the boxes (for toy donations) get where they need to go, collecting the boxes, coordinating with the Salvation Army, and putting the logistics into the project. That's what no one ever sees, but that's all he's done. As a result, the pile of toys has just grown larger and larger. My thanks to Doug."
Other coordinators for the event were Larry Mee, town of Poland; Melvin Peterson, town of Busti; Greg Hallberg, town of Ellery; David Babcock, town of Westfield; and Tim Card, town of Harmony.
"All the superintendents try to bring a couple of toys as an entrance fee for the day," said Mee.
"What I've done is take my kids to the store and tell them to pick out toys they would like," said Hallberg. "Unfortunately, I tell them, 'you can't keep it, but it's going to someone who would really appreciate it.' These kids that are getting these toys - it might be the only toy they're going to get this Christmas, but it's sure better than getting nothing. There are so many deserving kids that don't get anything, and we want to make sure that doesn't happen."
Representing the Salvation Army was Lt. Laura and Daniel Gonzalez, as well as Maj. Doug Hart.
"Toys are about fun," said Hart. "That's what it's all about. When I think about my childhood, it's really all about having fun. This event today was established because you want other children to have the same kind of fun that your children and grandchildren have had in their lives. In this day and age, there's a lot of darkness and despair that some of our children live with. Some of it is unimaginable."
"For me, these are more than just toys," said Daniel Gonzalez. "This shows the kids that there are people out there that care about them. This Christmas, they're going to have presents to open. They're going to have fun, but they're going to know that there are people that love them."
In total, 109 meals were served at the event, which means that at least 109 toys were raised from the event alone. Additionally, the Highway Superintendent Association voted to scrap drawing a winner for the 50/50 giveaway which was held, and instead, donate 100 percent of the proceeds which were raised to the Salvation Army.