For Linda Chastain and Kimberly Poke, Saturday was an opportunity to say thank you in the only way they knew how. They helped make sure other families will have a merry Christmas this year.
There will be plenty of toys under the Christmas tree as children awake on Christmas Day.
It was something both women wondered about in their past.
Chastain, who is a teacher at Yukon High School, said she was excited to volunteer at Santa’s Toy Shoppe this year. Last year, she was a single mom of four children, working her way through college on her way to a teaching degree.
When she wasn’t at college, she was at work earning minimum wage to keep the bills paid and her children fed.
That meant there was little left in the cupboard to buy gifts for her children.
“I would come here and get their Christmas presents. It’s what made their Christmas,” she said.
And, it wasn’t a one-time thing.
She utilized the program for several years to make ends meet.
“They would have had nothing because I wouldn’t have been able to get them anything. All my money went to bills. It made my Christmas because they had something,” Chastain said.
But things are looking up.
This year, thanks to her job at YHS, she and her family are expecting a nice Christmas. This year, instead of shopping at the Toy Shoppe, she is volunteering.
“It feels amazing that I can help others. I can relate to what they are going through. I know what it feels like to struggle, and it is hard. I know what they go through to just get presents,” she said.
“It’s why I volunteer. I want to give back,” she said.
Meanwhile, Poke has a similar story. Now a member of the program’s board, she used Santa’s Toy Shoppe during its early years as her children’s father was dying of cancer.
“I was working two jobs, trying to make ends meet. There was no extra money,” she said.
Poke said the program helped her daughters have a merry Christmas.
“When you are down in the dumps, you always hope that you can give back in some way. Five years ago, I found out that Santa’s Toy Shoppe was still around, so I started volunteering, and eventually became a board member,” she said.
Jim Poe, the president of Santa’s Toy Shoppe, said the community came through for the program.
Poe said 350 families went through the doors of the Toy Shoppe on Saturday, and another 50 or 60 are expected Thursday when there is a makeup day.
“It really went well. All of the feedback has been fantastic,” he said.
More than 100 people volunteered for the six-hour shopping spree, including members of the Yukon football team, who helped package the toys and provided assistance to their vehicles.
“It was amazing how that worked,” he said.
But it wasn’t just the football team. There were people from several organizations and of all ages.
Poe said it is how the community works.
In addition, several restaurants, including Johnny Carino’s, Chick-fil-a, Mazzios, CiCi’s and Chicken Express provided food for the volunteers.
Johnny Carino’s also donated $1,200 from a special event that it hosted recently.
“I am happy with how everything went,” Poe said.
The effort also thrilled Yukon Mayor Michael McEachern.
“It feels good for a lot of reasons. Santa’s Toy Shoppe is one of those things that stands out. It points out that we have a very high-quality community that cares about the people who aren’t on the front page every day. This, to me, is the real markings of what an outstanding community is all about,” the mayor said.
“I can’t picture any other activity that is more well done, more well put together and has a more profound effect on the young people who are disadvantaged than Santa’s Toy Shoppe,” he said.