Manhattan’s two major toy drives, Toys for Manhattan (TFM) and Operation Santa Claus (OSC), are both underway for area children.
Toys for Manhattan got its start in the late 1960s by former Riley County police Sergeant Al Myers, who started collecting toys from fellow officers and distributing them to families in need. He would also accept used toys, or what the organization calls ‘experienced toys,’ repairing them in time for the holidays.
Myers continued to head the program until poor health forced him to retire in 2001. At that time, Judy Padgett took over as program director, continuing to accept new and experienced toys for underprivileged families all over Manhattan. Padgett stressed that TFM is not to be confused with Toys for Tots, an organization that only takes new items.
“We service the families who have already been to the Breadbasket and through the Family Crisis Center,” said Padgett. “These are the families that are hurting to make ends meat and are definitely hurting at Christmas time.”
TFM dresses up the experienced Barbies that come in, giving every doll an accessory or piece of doll furniture. If an item comes in needing batteries, TFM takes care of that, too. This year, the organization needs more toys geared toward upper grade school age children and teenagers. Families can choose from clothes, dolls, books, games, puzzles, sports equipment, baby and toddler items.
“It can be very emotional, one year there was a woman who was so overwhelmed by the amount of toys that she fell to her knees and started praying,” she said. “There are always a lot of hugs, thank yous, Merry Christmases and Christmas cards given to us.
“This really is one of Santa’s workshops; we try to help as many families as we can,” Padgett said.
The organization utilizes more than 100 volunteers in preparation for the holiday season including A Brotherhood Aimed at Education (A.B.A.T.E), a local motorcycle group, whose members have been helping gather toys for 27 years.
“We collected $500 and I can’t even tell you how many toys this year,” said district 15 A.B.A.T.E representative Paul Woodyard.
This year’s workshop is in the old Ramblers Steakhouse, 8711 E Hwy 24. Anyone interested in making a monetary donation or donating new or used toys can do so from 5 to 8 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursday through Dec. 13. Padgett encourages friends and coworkers to get together to collect items.
Families will be able to pick out toys from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Dec. 1, Dec. 8 and Dec. 15.
Toy drop off sites in Manhattan are located at the Riley County Police Department, Manhattan Fire Department, Orscheln Farm and Home Supply and O’Reilly Auto Parts and are available during normal business hours.
Operation Santa Claus
OSC is a joint program put together by Fort Riley and the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). It was created 28 years ago to help families facing hard times financially during the holidays.
“The soldiers love it,” said Bill Shea, a retired major who coordinates the program for AUSA. Shea has been working with the program for six years. He describes it as “a growing operation; last year we served over 500 families and raising $80,000 in toy donations.”
This year the program hopes to collect $100,000 in donations raised through toys, cash and gift cards for local families. OSC will only accept new, unwrapped toys for children, ages 2 to16. The toys should range in price from $15 to $20.
Applications to be a receiving family will be accepted until Dec. 17. Toy donations and gift cards will be accepted until Dec. 22; no stuffed animals will be taken. Monetary donations for OSC will be accepted all year.
Fort Riley hopes to receive at least 5,000 toys this year for children before their Dec. 22 deadline.
More items are still needed for girls, ages 11 to 16 and boys 14 and up. To make a toy donation, following the pointing snowmen at Fort Riley to building 261 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to noon, Saturdays.
Extended hours are available upon request.
Fort Riley has two fundraisers in December to benefit OSC. Soldiers will be at Cox Bros. BBQ in Manhattan and Junction City from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Dec. 4. By making a donation, customers will get a 10 percent discount coupon. A percentage from that day’s sales will go to OSC. The organization will also be collecting toys at 2 p.m., Dec. 9, during the K-State women’s basketball game at Bramlage Coliseum. Anyone who brings in a toy can purchase a discounted ticket for $3. Tickets without a toy will be $7.
OSC has donation boxes in Manhattan at Walgreens, American Family Insurance, Walmart, Gymnastics Plus, Kmart, Navy Federal Credit Union and Coldwell Banker Real Estate.
In Junction City dropoff points are at The Daily Union Newspaper, Walmart and Armed Forces Bank. Fort Riley dropoff points are at the Armed Forces Bank, First Infantry Division Headquarters, 1st Brigade Headquarters, Irwin Army Community Hospital, Post Garrison Headquarters, 2nd Brigade Headquarters, Main PX and the Combat Aviation Brigade Headquarters.
Donation cans are located in Junction City at Meritrust Credit Union and Quantico Tactical and in Fort Riley at Military Clothing and Sales, Warrior Zone and Habanero’s.
Donations for OSC can be mailed to P.O. Box 2427, Fort Riley, KS 66442 and are tax deductible. For more information call (785) 239-6944 or (785) 239-2771 or visit the OSC Facebook page to sign up to volunteer.