The response to a local toy drive will determine whether a needy child has a joyful Christmas.
The Saxonburg Police Department will hold its annual Stuff the Cruiser from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at the South Butler Community Library and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Saxonburg Coffee & Tea on Main Street in the borough.
New unwrapped toys, books, clothing and winter wear will be placed into a Saxonburg police cruiser for children, from newborns to age 12.
Gift cards in the amount of $25 from big-box department stores and clothing stores will be accepted for teens.
The items will be collected by the Lighthouse Foundation in Middlesex Township and parents who use the foundation's food pantry will be able to pick out gifts for free at the Lighthouse Toy Shop, which is organized for families in need each year.
Theresa Rodriguez, chairwoman of the Toy Shop committee and marketing and grant manager at the Lighthouse, said she currently has a list of 350 youths from 167 families who will receive toys.
She expects that number to climb to 450 children from 250 families by the sign-up deadline.
Rodriguez said depending on donations, parents will get to pick out one or two larger items and two or three smaller gifts for each child.
Normally, Lighthouse volunteers wrap the gifts for the parents, but each family will receive a kit containing wrapping paper, scissors, tape and tags this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
All toys are sanitized before being placed on the tables at the Toy Shop, Rodriguez said.
“The Lighthouse depends on community support to be able to provide for our families who are in need of a little bit of help to get through the holidays,” she said.
Rodriguez said due to churches, businesses and organizations holding toy drives, Christmas will be magical for all children whose parents patronize the food bank.
“We are truly and genuinely honored that the Saxonburg police chose us as their beneficiary, and we are also blessed to partner with them,” she said.
Chief Joe Beachem of the Saxonburg police said his goal is to ensure every child finds a brightly wrapped present under the tree on Christmas morning.
“Obviously, Christmas is a time of giving,” Beachem said. “It's especially important this year with everything the state and country have been through with COVID-19 and shutdowns and loss of employment.”
He said last year was a banner year for Stuff the Cruiser, which started about five years ago.
Officers had to empty the cruiser five times and unload the toys into the police station for storage until they were retrieved by the Lighthouse Foundation.
“That is a lot of toys,” Beachem said.
All are invited to bring a toy or gift card to Saxonburg this weekend.