Now in its 20th year, the Stocking Stuffers Toy Drive is continuing its legacy of bringing Christmas joy to 400 or more children in Anderson County. Over the years, it has grown from a one-woman show to a true community event and effort.
Pequita Casteel, a Herald-Press receptionist, started the drive two decades ago, not quite knowing what she was getting into. She undertook the mission after the leader of her church, Dr. Tommy J. Crosby of Grace Temple Church of God and Christ, challenged members to each do something to benefit the Palestine community.
“It fell into my heart to do this,” Casteel said. “I thought I'd see how it went the first year. It went well and I decided to do it again and again. It just got bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Stocking Stuffers now operates with hundreds of generous community members who donate new, unwrapped toys, cash, or bicycles. Several volunteers examine applications, collect the toys, purchase additional ones, and coordinate the distribution.
The front doors of the Herald-Press are again open to donations. Casteel will accept donations, designate recipients, and ensure gifts go to the right families. She will accept donations of new, unwrapped toys for children, ages 0-18, until Thursday, Dec. 19.
This mission requires a county-wide effort to collect and organize the donated items. Toys for Tots, a non-profit operated locally by Amanda Malone and her cadre of volunteers, collects more than half of the unwrapped toys and brings them to the newspaper office for distribution.
“We are very thankful for the community's toy donations, which are always above and beyond our expectations,” said Herald-Press Publisher Jake Mienk. “We are also grateful to Pequita for coordinating the applications and donations to ensure that all children receive Christmas blessings.”
Toys for children of all ages are needed. With more than 150 children, ages 9-12, who need toys, however, the drive is requesting donations of games, crafts, balls, and bicycles. Casteel said all children will receive at least three gifts, unless they receive a bicycle.
Parents should complete applications by Dec. 1, providing the family’s address, names of parents and children, and their ages. Applications are collected at local agencies, including Anderson Cherokee County Enrichment Services (ACCESS), the Palestine Community Food Pantry, the Army Reserves, the Highway Department, and the Herald-Press.
To ensure the drive collects enough toys, Casteel reviews the applications and checks with other organizations with similar programs.
Applications will be accepted until Sunday. Checks should be made payable to the Herald-Press. For information, contact Casteel at 903-729-0281.