Rotary Club’s Operation Santa ready for yearly mission

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As November gives way to December, the Rotary Club will set to work like a cadre of elves on assignment from Santa’s workshop. Their mission, since they chose to accept it, will be delivering toys and other goods to families in the Prairie du Chien, Marquette and McGregor area.

“Everyone helps in some capacity. But there are a dedicated 15 or so people who help consistently. Everyone is great about jumping in where we need them,” Ben Achenbach, Rotary Club Projects  Committee Chair, said. There are five subcommittees that organize volunteers, toy collection, food, and so much more. 

In the early breaths of December, nearly 80 volunteers will gather toys from more than 20 businesses that had drop boxes at their locations to accept toy donations and another 10 that joined in the giving spirit on their own. Groups like the Kiwanis Club, Rotary and Women’s Civic Club will give their time and energy to fill up the basement of Hoffman Hall with the spoils of good tidings and holiday spirit. Among the donors, Casino Queen in Marquette, IA, announced a $3,893.46 donation to Operation Santa through their Jeans Day Friday initiative.

“We fill up the basement of Hoffman Hall, and that all goes to the kids,” Achenbach said. “There will be so many you won’t be able to see the tables.” And that’s not a small achievement: Achenbach estimated there will be 40 eight-foot long tables in the Hall’s basement to overfill.

Achenbach estimated 180-190 families with an average of 2.4 kids per family will receive toys and gifts from the program in 2023. Along with toys, Operation Santa distributes other goods, including food items, gift cards to businesses, toiletries, self-care items and clothing. Operation Santa also accepted monetary donations to help with the purchase of food and to provide additional gifts for families. “It is a huge help [to have the monetary donations] because then 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 diapers. “It is a lot more fun to buy toys but these are things we need.”

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 in Crawford Country, so we do as much shopping as we can here. We like to buy the food and toys locally. We like to spend the money that is raised here in the community.”

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. 

Any donations of toys or monetary gifts are greatly appreciated. If you have questions you can contact Operation Santa via Ben Achenbach at 608.326.8402. Visit Operation Santa’s website at

An article by Melissa Collum contributed to this story.

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