The Holiday Toy Drive is about to get underway, although parents and guardians will need to pre-apply for toys in advance, instead of making application the day of pickup.
Walker County Administrator Robbie Dickerson, who is leading the effort for the fourth year, said that fewer boxes will be put out for toys and the maximum age for children will be lowered from 18 to 14. However, she said organizers are still hoping to help make Christmas merry for many children across the county.
"We're going to be taking applications on Nov. 14-16 from 8 a.m. to noon at the Walker County Community Action Agency," Dickerson said. "We would like to do a little wish list on the applications," which should be available within the next week.
Pre-qualifying early instead of waiting until the day toys are handed out will help to get the paperwork out of the way earlier and to also better prepare for the children being helped that day, she said.
In pre-qualifying, "we will let you know we are able to fulfill that before it is too late. That way they can plan a Christmas. We are evolving to try to make things better for the families," she said.
Application forms will be available at the Community Action Agency's office at 644 19th St. W. in Jasper and at the Walker County Commission office in the Walker County Courthouse annex across from the Jasper First United Methodist Church.
"They will also be able to download it off of our Facebook page," called Walker County Toy Drive, she said.
All pre-application forms will be turned in through Community Action and will only be accepted Nov. 14-16, Dickerson said.
Toys will be handed out on a fun day set for Saturday, Dec. 8, from 10 a.m. to noon at 1804 Sixth Ave., at the site of the Community Action Agency's After-school program, near Lamar Glass.
Dickinson said organizers are hoping to make the distribution day a fun event, with refreshments (including hot chocolate and tea if the weather is cool), and maybe even having Santa on hand.
"Last year was fun, because some of them dressed up like elves," she said, with a laugh.
She said she is hoping to get more volunteers to help with that event.
Both toys and money will be accepted, with $1,000 already donated. "I would like to raise between $3,000 to $5,000," Dickerson said. "The more we raise, the more we are able to actually obligate to get those bigger items."
Checks can be made to the Holiday Toy Drive, with funds sent to Deidre Tatum, the executive director of the Community Action Agency. "They will not be mixed in with any county funds," Dickerson said, a nod to her own position with the Walker County Commission.
Some clubs also help out by purchasing gift cards, she said.
"We also get books through the Walker County Literacy Council," Dickerson said, noting children and even the adults have shown interest, looking through books set up on a table for them. The books also promote literacy in the county.
However, smaller toys will also be accepted in the boxes. The locations of the boxes have not been determined yet, she said, but they should be out by mid-November.
As for the toys donated, they have to be newly purchased, still in their original package, Dickerson said. Labeling on the box also helps to more easily determine what age the toys are appropriate for. She pointed out the ages are divided up in categories to better organize the distribution.
She hoped lowering the maximum age will allow organizers to concentrate more on fulfilling wishes for smaller children and pre-teen youth.
"We're in hopes that those from ages 10 to 14, where they might not get a bicycle, that might be what they get from us, or that one big item instead of a bunch of small stuff," Dickerson said. "Our goal is to help the parents a little bit more, to make sure the kids get something they actually, truly want that they are looking for. The parents might could do the other stuff, but they can't do the big thing."
Sponsors for the event include the Walker County Commission, the City of Jasper, Jasper Main Street and the Jasper Water Works and Sewer Board. It also is partnering with Walker County Acts of Kindness.
Community Action will “be the ones who process the distribution of toys. That way it is out of the hands of all the sponsors,” she said.
The drive requires one of several possible items of proof when they turn in their applications at Community Action:
• A Food Stamp award letter with children's birth certificate, or
• Recipient of 2017 Energy Assistance from Community Action, or
• Recipient of 2017 Food Assistance from Salvation Army, or
• Parent ID, children's birth certificate, or proof of household monthly income.
Households must be 150 percent poverty or below, Dickerson said.
Community Action then cross references with other relief agencies to make sure the people helped are not getting help from other agencies, she said, so more families are helped.
Dickerson noted if the applicants are already in the agency's database, they have already qualified. However, they need to bring the qualifying materials "just to be safe."
No plans are being made to go through areas of the county to distribute toys, as was done last year.
For more information, one may look at the Facebook page or email at email@example.com. They may also call Dickerson at 205-302-8063.