Marshalltown children receive Christmas toys at ‘Hope for the Holidays’ event

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Jason Helton listens to the Christmas wishes of Sofia Espinoza and Lupita Melendez. The 4-year-olds had the opportunity to meet St. Nick outside the Midnight Ballroom on Saturday. / Jason Helton escucha los deseos navideños de Sofía Espinoza y Lupita Meléndez. Las niñas de 4 años tuvieron la oportunidad de conocer a San Nicolás fuera del Midnight Ballroom el sábado.
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By Lana Bradstream, Times-Republican

Around 1,000 Marshalltown children of families in need received a toy-filled Christmas.

The United Cajun Navy (UCN) Holiday Hope toy giveaway was held at the Midnight Ballroom on Saturday. Jake Rowley, the midwest team leader for UCN, said they gave roughly 3,500 toys to 500 families.

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“I am happy with the way the event went,” he said. “I am glad we had the turnout of volunteers and we had the perfect amount of people. We weren’t overwhelmed. It was nice to have the support we did. I am super excited how it went and the families were, too. It went amazing. We served the families and no one got turned away, and we handed out all the toys.”

The toy giveaway featured the requirement of providing documentation of need. Rowley said if anyone wanted to get toys, they had to have proof of WIC, SNAP, HUD or letters from DHS or a school counselor.

“Some of the folks don’t qualify, but the school counselors have said they need help,” said volunteer Leigh Bauder of Bauder Consulting. “Once they check in, we check their IDs and look for documentation.”

People were limited to two toys per child. Rowley said toward the end of the line, families were allowed to choose more presents for their children. They could also choose a winter coat, which were brought in to help the residents who were unable to get a coat during the Coats for the Community giveaway.

“We want to make sure everyone stays warm and has a merry Christmas,” Bauder said.

People patiently wait in line before the beginning of the United Cajun Navy Holiday Hope toy giveaway. The event was held on Saturday at the Midnight Ballroom.

As parents waited in line, children had the chance to visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, played by Jason and Miki Helton. Jason said they were part of the volunteer group from the United Auto Workers (UAW).

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“One of the members asked if we could come play Santa, and we always do for events,” he said. “We thought this would be a great way to give back to the community.”

Jason thought the giveaway was wonderful and hopes to get the UAW more involved with a future toy giveaway.

Personal shoppers accompanied each person as they browsed the toys and the winter coats. Donna Edwards was helped by Tracy Dieleman with the Woman’s Committee of the UAW, which volunteered for the event.

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Edwards said she was at the giveaway because she was unable to afford gifts for her children.

“I have my sister’s kids and mine,” she said. “She passed away in 2021 from cancer.”

Donna Edwards picks out some toys with personal shopper Tracy Dillman. The personal shoppers were there to assist people receiving toys in the Holiday Hope giveaway.

Being unable to work due to disability for both herself and her husband makes the situation harder for Edwards. Despite the difficulties, she was able to reach the Midnight Ballroom and pick some toys.

“I’m happy,” Edwards said.

There were some hurdles to overcome to make the Holiday Hope a reality. First, there was a situation with the supply of toys. Rowley had to quickly find enough toys for the giveaway during his 30-hour drive to and from Baton Rouge, La – where UCN is headquartered.

Another hurdle was the search for missing Wall Lake man, David Schultz, who disappeared in November. Rowley organized a search party of volunteers who spent days scouring more than 100,000 acres in the area of where Schultz went missing. The search did not allow Rowley to place more focus on Holiday Hope. As a result, he said he was not able to acquire as many sponsors.

“I thought it would be easier after the coat giveaway,” he said. “We did have bigger sponsors who made this event happen, but we did not get enough money.”

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To make up for the lack of sponsors, Rowley said they used money from the UCN general fund.

“If we say we’re going to do something, we are not going to back out,” he said. “Maybe there were less sponsors because it was the end of the year. In the future, I will reach out to businesses earlier.”

Rowley said locating the funding for events is a headache, but is something the UCN gladly takes it on for the community. The Holiday Hope giveaway was such an event, and other giveaways are being planned.

He wanted to thank the sponsors for Holiday Hope – Bauder Consulting, Central Iowa Towing & Recovery, Exterior + Home Remodeling, First Methodist Church, Jeff Linton State Farm, Ma Brown’s Cookies and More, Midnight Ballroom, Rigo’s Lawn Care & Snow Removal, Wanatee Accounting Services and Wanatee Pro Wash.

Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or [email protected].

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