The Christmas season is officially here, and so is the annual Stuff The Van Toy Drive – as Townsquare Media’s 104.7 KISS-FM, My Country 95.5, K2 Radio, Rock 96.7, 107.9 The River, and AM 1400, ESPN Radio join forces to make sure all Casper’s kids have a Merry Christmas.  Entering year 18, the mission of Stuff The Van is bigger than ever – as we continue to work with our friends at the Wyoming Food For Thought Project to feed kids over the holidays and beyond, through the Weekend Backpack Program.

“It’s been incredible to see what this has evolved into over the past 17 years,” said Townsquare Media’s Donovan Short, Stuff The Van’s annual host. “This actually began with a single spur of the moment event years ago, after we got an emergency call from a local charity that had a lot more families than they had anticipated, right before Christmas Eve. We put the word out, hit the streets, and Casper stepped up and filled one of our radio vans in just a couple hours. We drove over and unloaded through the back door, right as the families were arriving through the front – seeing the relief and the gratitude in those parents’ faces, that moment when they knew their kids were going to have a Christmas - it made an impact on all of us. Everything kind of took off from there.”

Over 18 years, ‘hours’ grew to days, the radio ‘van’ has given way to large trucks, and a skeleton crew has turned into many volunteers – but the growth Stuff The Van is most proud of, is the amount of children that benefit from Casper’s generosity.  The drive now benefits children in need via the Boys and Girls Club, Head Start, Casper Housing Authority, Salvation Army, and the Child Development Center.

Short says, “A few years back, our friends at the Wyoming Food For Thought Project partnered up with us, and helped us to increase our manpower, add charities, and increase the amount of kids - and really helped us look at this from a broader perspective, to address Casper’s huge issue of childhood hunger and reach some of these same kids long after the holidays. We were in the great position of having some extra funds at the end of the drive one year after the toys were taken care of, and were able to get a matching grant that allowed the start of the ‘Weekend Backpack Program’.”

After the Christmas needs are met, funds now go directly to buy food for hundreds of children in the Casper area that struggle with food insecurity, often when they get away from safety nets like free and reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches through the school system.  “Nights, weekends, holiday breaks are hard on these kids – they often don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and that’s where Wyoming Food For Thought and the backpacks come in,” says Short. “They identify these kids through local schools, and send them home with easy-fix stuff that will keep them going.”

Wyoming Food For Thought Project’s Jamie Purcell says the need, as always, is a large one. “We’re currently sustaining 465 kids a year, but truly, we need to be serving over 3,000 – it’s a huge problem in Casper. We’re thinking outside the box these days, asking churches and community groups to get involved, managing the logistics with the Natrona County School District, looking for ways to grow the program and feed all the kids that need it. It’s all about finding local solutions to a local problem, and helping our kids grow.”

If you can help – Stuff The Van will take your new and unwrapped toys, clothes and cash for kids of all ages, from December 14-19, 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM each day.  December 14-16 is live at Walmart West, and December 17-19 is live at Walmart East. Financial donations will also be taken during the drive at any location of Hilltop National Bank, just tell them it’s for “Stuff The Van”.

Check back here or listen live during Stuff The Van for updates on specific items needed as our charities finalize 2015’s wish lists, and on behalf of Casper’s kids – thanks in advance for your years of generosity.

Over the past 17 Christmases, Casper has opened their hearts and wallets to make a huge impact on local kids during the annual Stuff The Van Toy Drive. To say thanks, celebrate Stuff The Van 18, and help even more kids this year – we’re throwing a huge party at the Beacon Club on Friday, December 18th – featuring a live performance from one of Casper’s favorite former kids – Aquile!

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