Home News Local News Toy drives help bring smiles to children on Christmas

Toy drives help bring smiles to children on Christmas

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Volunteers, from left, Nathan Paredes, Mariah Martinez, Hannan Galassini and Josiah Paredes helped hand out toys to more than 100 children in needy families Sunday at Red Lobster, 2625 N. Main St., as part of the Gonzales family’s Community Volunteer Program toy drive. (Submitted Photo)

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Organizers of two toy drives in Roswell said their efforts this year helped more than 400 children have a happier Christmas, and they’re already looking at how to help people in 2021.

The Gonzales family’s Community Volunteer Program had a toy drive culminating Sunday with a drive-thru giveaway for the 100 children in needy families who had registered, Mary Gonzales said.

Her grandsons Nathan and Josiah Paredes; granddaughter Mariah Martinez; and Hannan Galassini, manager of Red Lobster, 2625 N. Main St., where the drive-thru took place, helped hand out the packages of toys Sunday. Gonzales and volunteers Karen Ward and local participants in the Our Diamond Miss pageant delivered more packages of toys Tuesday to registered families who could not get to the drive-thru.

There were many more who donated toys and money to the drive, she said.

“I want to thank all of them for giving and helping putting a smile on a child’s face. It’s very hard for families that are begging me, can I add at least four more. They’re the less fortunate people, losing their job, don’t have any money or food,” Gonzales said.

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With public health orders restricting the size of public gatherings, Chaves County Court Appointed Special Advocates went virtual with its efforts to gather donations for the children it serves, and the community “went whole-hog,” Carrie-Leigh Cloutier, chief executive officer of the organization, said.

Through a list on Amazon, donors could choose from bicycles, toys, electronics, and health and beauty items to be sent directly to Chaves County CASA for the children.

“This community is incredibly supportive. I think shopping online worked for everybody. All our families have been taken care of. It’s really just incredible,” Cloutier said.

Around 300 children comprised CASA’s Christmas list this year, which is the typical number of children the organization gathers gifts for, Cloutier said. CASA might even be able to help families outside its scope, she said.

CASA represents the interests of children in court when they have been referred for social services or because they are involved in domestic abuse cases.

“We have gotten a lot of calls from the community, families that are not CASA families that are suffering and so hopefully we have a little bit left even that we can help some of those folks,” Cloutier said.

While the organization is still in need of cash donations to help with operating expenses, Cloutier said the toy drive’s success has helped give CASA a boost going into 2021.

“Really we feel very hopeful about ’21. We have so much support from our community and from our legislators that we are not going to give up,” she said.

The group has scheduled its next fundraiser, Make Time For Kids, for April 30, and is hopeful public health orders will allow large gatherings by then.

“Nothing beats our in-person events, and so we are very much looking forward to being together with our community again,” she said.

Cloutier said even when large gatherings are possible, the organization will include a virtual aspect to its operations in the future, including trainings and some services.

“I honestly think the entire way we do business has changed forever. In a lot of ways, I think it’s really great,” she said.

Gonzales is also looking ahead, making plans for an Easter food giveaway.

“We have a lot of canned goods and some perishables. We’ve got to sort them out, box them. We want to see what we can pack and give to people for Easter,” she said.

But she said it’s likely she’ll be helping people even as the year winds down.

“I know I’ll be getting more requests for food. In between, people are going to be needing next month’s stuff or even at the end of the month. I’ll be answering those calls also,” Gonzales said.

CASA is anticipating it will need to help more children next year and is recruiting more volunteers, Cloutier said.

“We expect as our economy opens and kids are back in school, everyone in the nation in our field is expecting a huge surge in reports, and we need CASA volunteers more now than ever before,” Cloutier said.

“It always happens when school starts in the fall. Teachers find out what’s been going on at home. There are a lot of referrals. It’s so much worse this year. Increased egregious physical violence is what we’ve been dealing with during the pandemic,” she said.

Volunteers are screened and if approved undergo 30 hours of training to become officers of the court.

“They are then given the case of a foster child and their job is to make sure the child is getting all the services they need and making sure that they get placed into a safe, loving home,” Cloutier said.

For more information about becoming a volunteer, go to www.casakids.org.

To help the Community Volunteer Program, call 575-626-9844.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.