Ever since 1993, the St. Croix Casino has helped to bring Christmas cheer to thousands of children. Through the Turtle Lake casino's Gifts from the Heart toy drive, more than 65,000 toys have been collected and distributed to charities in northwestern Wisconsin. During this year's drive, the 13th annual, which ran from Nov. 28 through Dec. 3, almost 3,100 casino guests donated more than 5,000 toys.
Sharing the Christmas spirit through the Gifts from the Heart toy drive is a cooperative effort. It starts with the generosity of the casino's guests, who donate toys for the drive.
The generosity continues with the casino. The casino gives $5 to each guest who donates a toy. The staff boxes and delivers the toy donations. This year casino personnel delivered toys to 13 charities in Barron, Burnett, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer, St. Croix and Washburn counties on Dec. 5 - 6.
According to St. Croix Casino General Manager LeRoy Buck, the St. Croix Casino's toy drive has become an area tradition.
"The success of our first toy drive convinced us to make it an annual event," Buck said. "We look forward to serving the community every Christmas, and the community looks forward to our toy donations."
But none of these children would have Christmas were it not for the most generous people of all, the staff and volunteers at Turtle Lake area charities.
It's no secret that this year has been a stressful one for charitable organizations. The tsunami disaster and the relief efforts for Gulf Coast hurricane victims have stretched resources to the limit and beyond. But optimism reigns at area charities.
Duana Bremer, director of Grace Place in Somerset, said, "We need a lot more food, clothing and toys in order to serve all of the families on our Christmas list. But somehow we always seem to get what we need, even when it doesn't look like we will."
Another community volunteer, Gary Husmann, summed up the whole reason for the Gifts from the Heart toy drive and for his commitment to the Prairie Farm Lions Club Christmas Project: "It's all about the children. There will undoubtedly again be smiling faces (children and parents) as a result of this project."