GREENFIELD — It’s a year-long effort.

And in just a few hours, the toys are hauled away; the plates, cleaned.

Organizers of the annual Day of Love and Caring spend all year planning for the event, held each Christmas Eve at the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds.

The days leading up to Dec. 24 are the busiest — there are toys to sort, clothes to hang and a Christmas meal to prep — but the tired always fades away, Peggy Couch said.

Sunday morning, more than 200 families visited the fairgrounds exhibit hall — transformed into a dining room for Christmas dinner with all the holiday fixings and Santa’s workshop — to pick out gifts for their little ones who otherwise might go without.

It will be a few days before organizers know just how many children were blessed by the event, but that morning, their hearts were full thinking of all the good the event does.

The Day of Love and Caring has been co-hosted since 2012 by God’s Open Arms ministry and the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen.

The event, which celebrated its fifth year, brings the community together each year to provide to families who need a little extra support this time of year.

The toys, the clothes and the food are donated by community members throughout the year, and droves of volunteers show up the day of the event to help parents shop for their children.

Rita Johnson was one of dozens of volunteers who served as Santa’s elves, helping Moms and Dads choose toys for their kids.

She’s already celebrated Christmas with her family and was happy to spend a few hours on Christmas Eve giving back to the community.

She’s lived in Greenfield for just a few years and is always blown away by the generosity of her neighbors, she said.

For the first time, all of the toys given away at the Day of Love and Caring were brand new, said Jill Ebbert, executive director of the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen.

And Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield helped collect 200 new bikes for Hancock County kiddos.

Year after year, bikes are at the top of kids’ wish lists, but many families can’t afford the expense. At the fairgrounds event, bikes are one of the most requested toys from kids who sit on Santa’s lap.

In the past, many of the bicycles given away were gently used. Peggy Couch and her husband, Dean, helped tune them up, swapping out old seats for new before giving them to a child in need.

This year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, bicycles of all sizes lined the halls of Park Chapel Christian Church.

They were the answer to a challenge church leaders gave members: Ensure every Hancock County child who wants a bike has one.

As word caught on, members of other community churches also answered the call, Peggy Couch said.

“Park Chapel helped open the hearts of other churches,” she said.

One by one, the bicycles were rolled out to cars, off to be placed beneath trees for Christmas morning.

Whitney Harger of Hancock County picked out two bikes for her sons, ages 1 and 2. They’re a little young for them now, but in a few years, when they’re ready, they’ll have brand new tricycles.

Harger can provide them without worrying about the hefty price tag that’s often attached to gifts of that size.

This year was the first time Harger visited the fairgrounds for the event. It took about two hours to get through Santa’s workshop — there are so many families who come out, they have to wait for their turn to shop.

But it was worth it, Harger said. Now, she’ll be able to provide to her boys the Christmas they deserve.

That’s the point of it all, making sure every child has presents under the tree come Christmas morning, Ebbert said.

And every year, Hancock County comes through.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Ebbert said. “It’s just really great to see everyone get something.”

Author photo
Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.