Backpackin’ for Christmas

COVID-19 sucker punches local toy drive

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Retha Ortiz and Christi Roth bring toys to Operation Christmas Train Set Foundation’s toy drive on August 30 at Earl’s Rib Palace, 10 W. Main Street in Yukon. (Photo by Carol Mowdy Bond)

By Carol Mowdy Bond
Contributing Writer

The Operation Christmas Train Set Foundation, and Earl’s Rib Palace of Yukon, and Oklahoma Car Shows, hosted the Earl’s Rib Palace BBQ and Rides Cruise In for Toys event on Sunday, August 30 at Earl’s, 10 W. Main Street.

The event was part of the foundation’s annual Christmas in a backpack drive. Executive director Dustin Fisher said,”COVID-19 is impacting donations. We’ve only had 10% of normal donations thus far this year. We’ve been unable to have our normal fundraiser events this year due to pandemic closures. And people aren’t shopping due to closures and loss of jobs.”

Fisher said that because of the pandemic there’s a bigger need this year. “And we’ve just got a couple of months left to fill the need,” Fisher said.

The foundation will repeat this event again in Yukon on September 27 and November 1 from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Earl’s Rib Palace, 10 W. Main Street. The distribution party, for those families with children who qualify to receive the backpacks, will be held Sunday, December 13, at Archery Traditions of Oklahoma, 328 Elm Avenue in Yukon.

Cindy and Ron Clifton arrived in Ron’s fire engine red 1955 Chevrolet pickup truck, to donate toys. Their first time to donate to the foundation, they read about the event on several Facebook pages.

“Starting in November, we’ll have about 20 toy drive location drop off sites,” said Fisher. “People can find those locations on our Facebook page and our web site.”

Regardless of hard times, during the first 30 minutes of the August 30 drive, people gave over $100 in toys and over $100 in monetary donations.

Owners of classic or other cars and forms of transportation cruised in, showed off their rides, ate at Earl’s, and made monetary or in-kind donations.

One of many annual events held throughout the year, the foundation asks for monetary donations plus in-kind donations of unwrapped toys, school supplies, and other specific items. The items are used to fill backpacks which are given to children needing Christmas gifts.

Fisher said each backpack is filled with all new items, including 10 toiletries, 10 school supplies, winter hat and gloves, and non-perishable snacks. As well, a big toy, a blanket, and a stuff animal are tied to each backpack. “Everything must be new. Most items cost $5.00 or under, except the big toy, blanket, and stuffed animal,” Fisher said.

Fisher said, “We usually buy all the backpacks in bulk. People may bring backpacks if they want. But our main thing is for people to bring the new items to fill the backpacks. Annually we give out 100 to 250 backpacks. On top of that we give out 500 to 1,000 toys, 300 to 400 blankets, and over 1,000 stuffed animals.”

Each person who gave a new, unwrapped toy, or made a minimum donation of $10 on August 30, received a raffle ticket for prizes. Prizes included a car detail bucket from the O’Reilly Auto Parts corporate office, and gift cards to Earl’s.

The foundation, which has an all-volunteer staff, also gave away some of their t-shirts, and also sold them for $20 each. The shirts were donated, so the money for sales goes to purchase needed items.

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“We usually have 200 to 500 people donate annually,” said Fisher. “And we have 125 to 150 great sponsors each year, including small businesses, corporate businesses, clubs, organizations, civic groups and other. But COVID has impacted our sponsors this year.”

“We’re on call with the fire department,” Fisher said. “If a home burns down, and kids lose their toys, we supply new toys for those kids. We helped with the El Reno tornado of 2019, and the Elk City tornado, giving toys to kids who lost theirs in the storms. We also have school supply drives for kids during school time.”

When Fisher was young, his family fell on hard times. People stepped up to make sure he had Christmas gifts. One thing led to another, and six years ago, he learned of two single mothers in need. They didn’t have Christmas gifts for their children. So, he provided those gifts.

Circumstances snowballed, and five years ago, Fisher founded the Operation Christmas Train Set Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, that provides Christmas gifts each year for children. “And now here we are, 20,000 gifts later,” Fisher said.

“We get names of families from churches, schools, police and fire departments, and other,” Fisher said. “Beginning on October 1, the families may apply on the foundation’s web site. Whether or not they qualify is usually based on their income. But this year it’s also based on COVID-19’s impact on families. Usually, the backpacks are for children 12 and under. But sometimes there are special situations.

For the criteria to qualify, people may go to our web site http://www.octsfok.org. They’ll also find information on how to apply.”

There’s still time to give a monetary or in-kind donation. To do so, email Fisher at dfisher@octsfok.org, or call Fisher at (405) 519-3716. Or, purchase needed items through Amazon and have them shipped to: The Operation Christmas Train Set Foundation, 4924 NW 32nd Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73122. Checks or money orders, made out to The Operation Christmas Train Set Foundation, may be mailed to that address. And donations may be made through PayPal. For instructions, go to the web site and click on Ways To Give. Or, attend the foundation’s next event.

The foundation has more fundraising events coming up. Follow those on their Facebook page Operation Christmas Train Set Foundation.