ST. MARYS — More than 600 children in the St. Marys school district received Christmas gifts — and some tasty food — thanks to an annual program that has been helping local residents for more than five decades.
At 7 a.m. today, scores of Goodfellows hit the streets of St. Marys to spread Christmas cheer to local families. Each year, the program helps hundreds of children in the school district, as well as their families.
“The community came through with an outpouring of toys,” a Goodfellow said — Goodfellows often remain anonymous. “We have 1,800 larger toys and 1,800 smaller toys. It turns out every child should get three larger gifts and three smaller gifts.”
This year, the program was able to help 604 children and 360 families. In addition to gifts, each family received a food box that contained all the trimmings for a holiday meal — including a ham.
On Saturday, volunteers were busy assembling food boxes as well as sorting and packaging toys for each family. Goodfellows also inspected the 15 bicycles that were given as gifts this year.
Each year, dozens of Memorial High School students volunteer as part of the Goodfellows programs. Some assemble boxes while others sort and package toys. The students, a Goodfellow noted, are a vital component to the program.
“I just love it,” a Goodfellow said. “Some come back each year ... This is my 40th year.”
Throughout the years, the number of applications that pour into the program has grown. Despite the influx of needy families, the program has continued to help any and all families that seek its assistance.
“We used to have maybe a couple hundred families,” a Goodfellow said. “The need is greater now.”
St. Marys Community Foundation Administrator Mike Makley has been involved in the Goodfellows programs for years. Makley, who used to help organize the high school students’ participation in the program, thanks the community for backing the Goodfellows.
“Our grocery bill was over $10,000,” Makley said.
“That’s where all the donations go.”
The toys netted for the program come via the local Toys for Tots drive. That drive is spearheaded by Steve Mackenbach.
Makley also praised the efforts of the students for taking time out of their schedules to help those in need.
“It’s always a good time of year and the kids really do pitch in,” Makley said. “Whether they get recognition for it or not — they just continue to show up every year. It’s remarkable how many college kids we get to come back.”
Nick Durkee, a Memorial High School senior, helped out Saturday by organizing food and gifts. For Durkee, the opportunity to help out local families was an easy choice.
“At first it was just extra credit, but then you realize it’s something good and you want to help out more,” Durkee said. “You feel good about yourself.”
Durkee has helped out every year during his high school career. The experience is one he encouraged other students to take up.
“I think a lot of people don’t volunteer for numerous reasons,” Durkee said.
“But I think people should volunteer just to volunteer. If they just do that, generally they get some feeling out of it.”
Durkee said seeing the look on the faces of the families — especially the children — when they open their doors Christmas Eve is priceless.
“We get to meet the families — it just feels awesome,” Durkee said. “All the work we have done, just to go out there and give the stuff to the families is amazing.”
Alex Mielke was putting air into the tires of several bicycles on Saturday. For Mielke, volunteering is common.
“I like to volunteer,” Mielke said. “I like to help people in need who are less fortunate than I am.”
This was the second year Mielke helped with the program. Like Durkee, he encouraged his fellow Roughriders to help out.
“It helps teach them how to work and lets them see that there are people who need help in the world,” Mielke said.