Project Joy gears up for drive-through giveaway

Matthew Rhodes/Register: Santa has a few additional helpers at the Brookings City & County Government Center this year. Project Joy is under way, and County Equalization Office administrative assistants Melissa Walsh and Jean Stoebner are here to help. They’ve decked the halls at their office to help promote Project Joy. They have a tree with gift-tags available to pick from and a drop-off box for toys.

Deadline to drop off toys is Dec. 7

BROOKINGS – Looking to brighten up the holiday season during this difficult year? 

Brookings’ Project Joy is in full swing, seeking to provide children in need gifts under the tree this Christmas. 

On Dec. 12, Project Joy will host its annual toy giveaway, but this time as a drive-through at the Old Sanctuary with scheduled appointment for those who have registered in advance.

Project Joy sets up a series of trees throughout the community with “gift idea tags” and can be found at: Walmart, Lewis, Bisson Dental, the Children’s Museum of South Dakota, Sunflower Salon & Spa, SDSU Wellness Center, Krave, 9Round Fitness, Brookings County Equalization Office, and Brookings Family Dentistry, which is matching all donations up to 50 toys. 

Each location also has a drop-off box available for donations except for 9Round. Donations can be dropped off any time until Dec. 7.

The Best Choice Project Joy trailer will also be roaming around town to pick up donations and will be at the following locations on the following dates: Dec. 1 at Perry Electric, Dec. 2 at Biomat USA Plasma Center, Dec. 3 at Wilmont Estates, Dec. 7 at McCrory Gardens, Dec. 8 at the University Mall, Dec. 9 at Schoon’s Pump ’n Pak, and Dec. 10 at Brookings Health System.

“We have lots of trees set up around town and the tags on the trees which have gift suggestions for the children that will benefit from Project Joy,” Best Choice Realtor and Project Joy board member Kari Westlund said. “So people can certainly pick a tag off of a tree, get a gift and return it to that location. We usually ask that the gifts are unwrapped because we actually have to shop for the kids to be able to see what each kid’s wish list has.”

“It’s basically families in need. They all have to fill out an application to make sure they qualify and that they live in Brookings County,” Westlund said.

Westlund said toys come from all areas throughout Brookings: dropped off at the box locations, donated through businesses doing toy drives, nonprofit donations and even monetary donations where volunteers for Project Joy go out and make the purchases themselves.

In the past, the Old Sanctuary was transformed into a toy store and parents would sign up for a time and go Christmas shopping.

COVID-19 is throwing a bit of a wrench in that plan. Nevertheless, the Project Joy team is pushing forward with a new way of bringing home the holidays for families and kids in need.

“Unfortunately, we cannot have the store because of COVID. So, we’re going to have a drive-through Project Joy Day,” Westlund said. “So on Dec. 12, all of the families who benefit from Project Joy will have a time to come and drive up, and we will have already shopped for their toys and they will be ready for them to be hauled out to their car. We’ll give them their wrapping paper, and the kids will still be able to have a Merry Christmas.”

This is also the first year that people can sponsor a child. Donors give $50 on the Project Joy website, where there is a wish list of toys to choose from. Westlund said that each year, every child has roughly $50 worth of toys allotted to them. Last year the program served around 600 to 700 kids.

Westlund said Best Choice will be driving around a Best Choice truck to go around and pick up all the toys in the weeks before the drive-through event.

This year the Brookings County Equalization Office is going big for the event. 

Melissa Walsh and Jean Stoebner, administrative assistants at the County Equalization Office, have been promoting Project Joy for several years, and this year they wanted to bring some additional holiday cheer to the office and to the community.

Stoebner said there is a drop-off box outside of their office at the Brookings City & County Government Center for those who want minimal interaction during the pandemic but still want to participate. She encouraged everyone to spend a little extra this season, especially during their Black Friday shopping.

“It started with county employees bringing it to the commission’s attention seven or eight years ago, and the Equalization Office was the group that spearheaded that idea. So, it’s always been an employee driven initiative and hasn’t really been widely publicized because as commissioners, we aren’t in the building all that often,” County Commissioner Angela Boersma said. “It was my challenge, this year, to the other commissioners, to really pursue this more intentionally this year.”

“So, Project Joy itself is designed to provide families with gifts for their kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to purchase them for Christmas. The county offices became one of the promoters and drop-off sites for the Project Joy Drive a few years ago,” Boersma said. “They aren’t wrapped gifts…these are unwrapped and donated so that families have the experience of being able to ‘shop’ basically for their kids. Normally the commissioners get together and we throw in our own personal dollars to help with things, but when so many things have been canceled that you would otherwise be involved in due to COVID, this feels like a better way to be a part of the community.”

Boersma said that one of the goals this year was for the offices to be celebratory and decorated as lavishly as possible to bring some Christmas cheer during anxious times, and to inspire those who come through the Brookings City & County Government Center to potentially donate to Project Joy.

“The biggest thing for probably our county employees and for the county commissioners is that, in a year where everything feels weird and uncertain and families are struggling more now than maybe they ever have, trying to contribute in some way shape or form to at least normalize this Christmas holiday is something that we all care about,” Boersma said.

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Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected]


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