It’s that time of year – we’re getting ready to kick off our 14th Annual Stuff The Van Toy Drive at both locations of Wal-Mart, with help from our friends at Wyoming Food Bank Of The Rockies. For the last 13 years, we’ve taken to the streets every Christmas season to help Casper kids in need – and with your generosity, we’ve been able to help more and more kids each year.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve expanded the Toy Drive to include more local charities and participating agencies in an effort to reach as many children as possible, with the distribution and organizational help we get via Wyoming Food Bank Of The Rockies. This year, kids served through the Boys & Girls Clubs Of Central Wyoming, the Salvation Army, and the Child Development Center Of Natrona County will benefit from your donations of new and unwrapped toys, clothes, and cash/checks.

We’re at Wal-Mart West from 7-7, December 12-14. December 15-17, we move to Wal-Mart East – so whichever side of town is more convenient, we’ll be near you for a portion of Stuff The Van to make it easy to drop off your donation. Right now, the need is broad and all-ages (both clothing & toys). In years past, we’ve always found that donations for older kids pace a little slower than stuff for the younger ones – so please keep our tweens & teens in mind if you’re shopping. Listen in for hourly updates throughout the drive, as we’ll be talking more about the specific needs as we take daily inventory of where we’re at and get updated lists of needed items from our participating charities.

There’s also something new you might not be aware of – last year, after we had fulfilled the wish lists (and then some) of all our participating charities, we found ourselves in the enviable position of having a surplus of cash donations. We were able to use those donations in the spirit they were given – helping kids. After receiving some matching funds to be placed with them, your generosity helped seed a Casper project called Totes Of Hope, which provides food to Casper children that often struggle to get a meal outside of the free breakfast/lunch programs at school. It’s hard to imagine for those of us fortunate enough to have food on the table – but the reality for these kids is that when school is out evenings, weekends, holidays – some of them just simply don’t get anything to eat.

Through Wyoming Food Bank Of The Rockies and the school system, these kids are sent home with tote bags containing enough nutritious kid-friendly food to get them through the times when food is scarce. We’re proud to report that due to your extra generosity last year, this program is now going in 20 different schools, and serving just shy of 200 kids. These kids are showing up happy, healthy & focused on learning, instead of hunger. But there’s a lot more ground left to cover – in Natrona County alone, there are 3,650 children (that’s 54% of our kids) who are identified as “food insecure”. Pretty scary stuff – but the good news is, something’s being done about it.

We started Stuff The Van over 13 years ago with one goal – that no child in Casper should go without a simple toy or warm clothes at Christmas. With your help, we hope to eventually insure that those same children never wonder where their next meal is coming from. Every year, we meet people who personally benefitted from your generosity, are back on their feet, and stop by and give what they’re able in order to pay it forward. Thanks for a great 13 Stuff The Vans so far – hopefully #14 is our best yet. Merry Christmas!