Toy drives spread smiles

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Employees from the Fred's Super Dollar on Highway 80 donated toys to the Operation Santa Claus collection station on Highway 80 Thursday morning. The toys were all purchased and donated by Fred's employees and customers.

Law enforcement trying to help children in need this Christmas

Local law enforcement agencies are on an important mission this month – to make many children smile on Christmas Day.

The Benton Police Department and the Bossier Sheriff’s Office are hard at work collecting toys for children who may otherwise go without. Both departments agree that the time and effort in the weeks leading up to distribution day is worth it to see a child’s face light up on Christmas morning.

This is the third year for the Benton Police Department toy and food drive. Police Chief Charles Pilkinton said they are hoping to help more than 60 families in the Benton area.

However, Pilkinton said they have received very little donations so far. The department remains hopeful, though, that more donations will come in over the next 11 days.

“We were fortunate to help 62 families last year, but our donations are nowhere near that volume this year,” Pilkinton said. “There are people here that can’t work and do what they can to support their family, but they need our support too. There’s no way we could do this all year long, but we can do it now to help a little bit.”

While they don’t have a goal for the year of how many families they would like to help, Pilkinton said they will do whatever they can to give back to the community.

“If someone says they need something, we do what we can to help them out,” he said. “We don’t want people to feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking. Our goal is to give these children a good Christmas and to feed their family a nice Christmas dinner.”

The Benton Police Department will accept donations of toys for children ranging in age from infant to teens and nonperishable food items through Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. Donation drop off areas include the police station and town hall on Sibley Street and the Dollar General on 3rd Street.

“We appreciate every donation no matter how large or small,” Pilkinton said. “Nothing is too small this time of year. Times are tough for everyone and it’s showing with the amount of donations we’re getting, but we will do the best we can with what we get.”

In a separate effort, the Bossier Sheriff’s Office has partnered with the Shreveport Police and Fire Departments and Townsquare Media for Operation Santa Claus. Their mission is to give the “children of Caddo and Bossier Parishes a Christmas to remember.”

Representatives from the law enforcement agencies have been stationed at various locations in the Shreveport-Bossier area this week, collecting toys and monetary donations along the way. Sgt. Tina Fruge with the Bossier Sheriff’s Office said the donations have steadily come in, but they still have more wish lists to fulfill.

“Any kind of donation helps,” Fruge said. “If it weren’t for these donations, we would not be able to help these children in need.”

Donations can be any new, unwrapped toy or dollar amount. A few items on wish lists include Easy Bake Ovens, skateboards and karaoke machines.

“To see the smiles on their faces when they open their present brings tears to your eyes,” Fruge added. “That moment makes every minute of standing outside in the cold, collecting donations worth it.”

Cpl. Mary Garrett with the Shreveport Police Department said Operation Santa Claus helped more than 1,100 children last year. Although they had a slow start to the week, Garrett said more and more people continue to open their hearts.

“A majority of the families we help are dealing with financial hardships,” Garrett said. “They usually don’t have any extra money after the bills are paid so we’re just an extra hand that gives them a boost when times are tough.”

The Bossier Sheriff’s Office will distribute toys to about 200 children in Bossier Parish Thursday, Dec. 19. The last day to drop off donations for Operation Santa Claus is Monday, Dec. 16.

Donations of new, unwrapped toys can be made to any Citizens National Bank location in Shreveport-Bossier, including 700 Stockwell Road, 2711 E. Texas Street, and 2005 Benton Road in Bossier City. For more information on Operation Santa Claus or to make a donation, call (318) 687-GIFT (4438) or visit www.osccaddobossier.com.