GREENFIELD — It started with a notice in the newspaper.
Tucked on the front page, amid a list of notices, was a call for help: Toys for Tots sought toy donations for families needing a little extra help at Christmas.
Christy Harpold, a social worker at J.B. Stephens Elementary School in Greenfield, saw the note in 2010 and thought she could help — not just by donating toys but by helping connect the organization to families in need.
And so, she reached out to Dick Jefford, the local coordinator for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve-sponsored program, who for the past few years had been single-handedly collecting toys for children in Central Indiana.
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It was the start of a partnership that took a good idea and built upon it, expanding the number of drop-off points and planning a distribution day to ensure the goods went to local families.
Jefford brought Toys for Tots to Hancock County about a decade ago. When he received a call from Harpold, he wasn’t sure what to think. She offered advice he hadn’t sought, telling him the organization could reach more local families by partnering with the United Christmas Service, a United Way of Central Indiana program that helps families in need during the holiday.
He decided to hear her out. Turns out, she knew what she was doing, Jefford said.
Years later, they look back on the conversation and laugh.
As the program blossomed — it now distributes some 3,000 toys to area children — so did Harpold and Jefford’s friendship.
“I always tease him he shouldn’t have answered that call,” she said.
Harpold and Jefford co-chair the program, with Jefford organizing the toy collection and Harpold taking charge of the distribution day, as well as identifying families who are invited.
The effort takes months of planning. As early as September, Harpold and Jefford hold a call-out meeting for volunteers, who will be tasked with helping sort toys and prepare them for families based on the ages of their children.
In October, Jefford puts out collection boxes at dozens of businesses across the community, where toys are dropped off by Hancock County residents through the first week of December.
Then, he packs all the toys up and drops them off at J.B. Stephens Elementary School, where volunteers sort them by age and gender to be distributed.
Jefford started the program because he wants all children to receive gifts on Christmas.
As a grandfather, he sees the joy of Christmas in the eyes of his grandchildren year after year.
Youngsters don’t understand tough financial times, and they have no control over what situations they’re born into. They just understand Santa Claus, he said, and every child expects him to come through at Christmas.
Looking back on the success of the past six years, Jefford said he hopes whoever comes next will lead with the same love and passion. With this year’s event finished, Jefford hopes to pass the torch to another generous soul in the coming months. But it’ll take just the right person signing on, he said, for him to retire.
His is a dedication Harpold shares.
Giving back at Christmastime has been a long tradition for Harpold and her family. For years, she’s helped provide Christmas assistance to families at J.B. Stephens.
As a social worker for 15 years, she knows many of the families and children who have benefited from charity efforts over the years.
They’re parents who would otherwise have to decide between paying a utility bill or buying Christmas presents for their kids — a decision no parent should have to make, Harpold said.
“I see the struggles that parents have. I see a lot of parents who are working hard just to make ends meet, and so Christmas is just stressful,” Harpold said. “It’s something small, but I know so many people appreciate it.”
As the holidays near, Harpold’s office at the elementary school is packed full of toys and books, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
For Jefford and Harpold, knowing they’re helping families provide Christmas to youngsters is humbling.
Every year, they receive thank-you notes from grateful families. Sometimes, when moms and dads get back on their feet, they return the favor, donating to Toys for Tots or finding other ways to support the organization.
And year after year, the organization has never had to turn a family in need away. Jefford and Harpold won’t take credit for that, of course.
Thanks to a giving community, there is always enough to go around, Jefford said.
“Toys for Tots has prospered in Hancock County because of Hancock County,” he said.