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Willmar, Minn., students make substantial donation to Salvation Army toy drive

Willmar eighth-grade students Tanner Dahle, from left, Robert Boyd, Avery Hovland and Austin Bollar discuss their more than $1,000 donation to The Salvation Army on Wednesday at the headquarters for The Salvation Army holiday Toy Drive. Also pictured is Salvation Army representative Kris Fuqua, second from right. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — This Christmas, more than 1,000 local children will have gifts under the tree thanks to some generous donations — including one from 130 eighth-grade students.

On Wednesday, eighth-graders from Willmar Middle School presented the Salvation Army with a check for $1,015, which will go toward the Salvation Army’s holiday toy drive. Teacher Sally Wilson’s six eighth-grade social studies classes raised the money over the past two weeks.

“I was amazed by the amount of money they raised,” Wilson said. “It just shows the generosity of hearts in Willmar Public Schools. These kids have a lot of compassion for others.”

Wilson’s eighth-graders have been studying great American philanthropists this semester, and she thought having the students donate toward a cause would bring the history lessons to life.

Some students skipped a cookie at lunch or brought in their change from home to donate to the toy drive. One eighth-grader went so far as to donate $150, Wilson said.

The top four student donors accompanied Wilson to the Salvation Army’s toy drive distribution center, in the old Kmart space in the Kandi Mall, on Wednesday afternoon to see where their money went.

“It just feels good to donate, and it’s the right thing to do,” said eighth-grader Robert Boyd after handing over the check.

Student Avery Hovland asked some of her friends to give money and went through her “car change” to make a sizable donation. Tanner Dahle brought in his family’s gallon-size change jar, and classmate Austin Boller donated all the money from his electronic piggy bank.

“It’s important to think of others, especially at Christmas,” Tanner said. “We’re so used to waking up on Christmas morning with presents, but a lot of kids don’t have that. This is a great cause.”

Much of the money that Wilson’s classes — and many other individuals and groups from the community — donated to the Salvation Army went toward buying gifts for children between the ages of 0 and 18. Low-income families from Kandiyohi County applied through the Salvation Army to receive those gifts, as well as food assistance.

This year, 369 families, and a total of 1,004 children, will receive gifts through the toy drive, said Kris Fuqua, Salvation Army corps administrator. Gift donations also came from Toys for Tots, the Willmar Ambulance Toy Drive and various Angel Trees around the community.

For the first time this year, the qualifying families “shopped” for their children’s gifts at the toy drive distribution center. Families can pick up their toys through Thursday.

The Christmas fundraising money that the Salvation Army raises between November and the end of January also goes toward funding the organization’s other programs throughout the year, Fuqua said.

“We really depend on that money for operations year-round,” she said.

At Christmastime, though, it’s especially important to help families going through tough times — whether from layoffs, illnesses or other reasons, she said.

“Some families have a difficult time just surviving and keeping the utilities on,” Fuqua said. “We want to assist them during the holidays so they can have a special time with their families, too.”

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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