Operation Santa projected to provide over 300 families with gifts and food

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By Melissa R. Collum 


Operation Santa has been a consistent presence in Prairie du Chien for approximately 30 years. First started by the Jaycees, they worked to grow it into a central part of the PdC holiday season. According to Ben Achenbach, Chair of Operation Santa, it was when the Jaycees disbanded, about 10 years ago, that the Rotary took the program over. There are a total of 30 Rotarians. “Everyone helps in some capacity. But there are a dedicated 15 or so people who help consistently,” states Achenbach. There are five subcommittees that organize volunteers, toy collection, food, and so much more. 

There are many businesses and organizations in town that serve as drop off sites and donate their time and money to the project. For example, the Eagles Club is having an Operation Santa Fundraiser and Toy Drive on December 3. The Eagles have a number of activities, open to the public,  going on from 11 am to close.  During the PdC Holiday Parade on December 2, the PdC police force collects toys and warm winter items in the “Stuff the Squad’ event. Milo’s Towing and Repair holds multiple events to encourage people to ‘Stuff a Truck’. On December 3, Milo’s will be in the parking lot of Nelson’s from 9 am-noon collecting donations. 

There are approximately 175 families (some families have multiple children) who receive toys, but it is much more than gifts. When a family gets their toys it comes in a large black garbage bag that also includes gift bags, wrapping paper, and tape. Additionally, every family receives a box of food, toiletries, and household items, valued at approximately $100. These are filled with items to make the holiday special, including gift cards to local stores, such as Mississippi Meats. “Gift cards give people the freedom to go in and choose what they would like for their meal and it keeps the money in the community,” explains Achenbach. If a family has infants, they will also receive diapers. Additionally, there are an extra 150 meals that are given out to families without children. 

There are many organizations that help with monetary donations. For example, the last day of the season Pete’s Hamburgers donates all the profits to Operation Santa. According to Achenbach the project has grown within the community that their organization or families makes annual donations. Operation Santa has its own account with in the Rotary, so funds that are given for Operation Santa are used for Operation Santa. “It is a huge help [to have the monetary donations] because the  we can focus our time on the families, toys, and food,” expresses Achenbach. The monetary donations are used to cover the shortfall in food, clothing, and mostly diapers. Some of the things that are less fun to buy, yet they are always needed are diapers and P.J.s. for children aged 10 and under, as well as hats and gloves. “It is a lot more fun to buy toys but these are things we need. Toys are always great to!” comments Achenbach.

According to Achenbach whenever the Rotary asks a local business or organization to help out with Operation Santa, they step right in. “We want to spend the donation moneys here is Crawford country, so we do as much shopping as we can here,” states Achenbach. “We like to buy the food and toys locally. We like to spend the money that is raised here in the community.”

Once all the toys and food stuffs are gathered is when the work of the Rotary and volunteers begin. “We fill up the basement of Hoffman Hall and it is crazy to see how many volunteers come. Each weeknight there are around 40 volunteers and on Friday over 50 people from the community come out to help,” beams Achenbach. “Everyone is great about jumping in where we need them.” Throughout the week volunteers work to organize the basement of Hoffman Hall. Toys are set out by age and gender. ‘Shopper’ volunteers take the registration lists and fill up the bags going to the families. Additionally, the food is sorted and boxed. All the bags and boxes are organized for the pick-up day. 

The pick up is done through a drive through service. The volunteers get a family sheet. When the families come to the drive through, the volunteers gather the bag with their name on it and deliver it to their vehicle along with a box of food.  “It is pretty amazing watching everyone in the community come together. The man power to get all the toys gathered, to organize it all, and then give it away in a matter of three or four hours is incredible. It is all hands on deck,” states Achenbach. There are organizations in town that come to help with these activities, such as the Women’s Civic Club and the Fire Department. 

It is projected that there will be more people signing up for the program this year. “A lot of the give a-ways are for families in PdC, but we also give to Northern Crawford County,” states Achenbach. “They have to come to Hoffman Hall on the 9th to pick it up. But it is open to anyone in Crawford County. We also give to Marquette and McGregor, that is considered PdC.” 

Any donations of toys or monetary gifts are greatly appreciated. If you have questions you can contact Operation Santa via Rotary of PdC at 608-357-2008 or pdcrotary@gmail.com. Donations of toys and money can be dropped off at any Peoples State Bank location. You can also mail it to the Rotary at P.O. Box 35, PdC 53821. 

If you would like to help with the organization and distribution of the toys and food, volunteers are needed: Monday, December 5 to Thursday, December 8, from 4 -8 pm. Friday, December 9, during distribution is from 11 am – 5 pm and volunteers needed throughout the day. If you are interested in volunteering you can call Ben Achenbach  at  the number or email listed above or just show up a Hoffman Hall. 

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