It's a sign of the holidays and the giving spirit of Ottumwa, as people throughout the community find ways to give back and make the holiday season brighter for kids and families they've never met .
Two gift distribution events in Ottumwa Friday spread the holiday cheer to those in need.
At the Salvation Army, 350 families signed up for the Christmas assistance program came out to pick out their toys and receive their holiday meals. All the toys were donated from the community through the Toys for Tots program, Angel Trees throughout town and the donations received from the Ottumwa Fire Department's Operation Sparky Claus.
Every parent got to pick out two toys for each child, a stocking stuffer, like mittens and hats, and a family game or puzzle to enjoy together.
The Salvation Army was packed with people picking out their gifts, and each year the Salvation Army is amazed at the community's effort.
"It's awesome to see and especially to see a community that's so giving and generous to help other people," said Captain Tabitha Knuth. "People are amazed when they come in and pick out the toys that they're very nice toys, and it makes most of them leave here with a big smile knowing that their kids are going to have a good Christmas."
For children involved Ottumwa's Iowa Kids University program, many of their parents don't have the extra funds during the holiday season to buy presents. High Noon Kiwanis and the South Ottumwa Savings Bank have stepped up for the last ten years, buying, wrapping and dropping off presents for families selected for donations.
"One of the missions of the Kiwanis group is to help children," said Sonja Ferrell, of High Noon Kiwanis. "We thought this is a great way for us to achieve that goal."
Throughout the year, Kiwanis raises money for the Christmas donations with "Happy Bucks". Employees at South Ottumwa Savings Bank can pay $5 every first Friday of the month for casual dress, and those proceeds go to the Christmas donations as well. Then, every October, the money is counted and divided up equally, and the families are chosen.
"It's just so nice to be able to make a difference to help these people who are working so hard to take care of their children and pay the bills and just that extra money it costs to squeeze out for an extra gift at Christmas time just means so much to them," said Sue Huff, Executive Director of Iowa Kids University.
Huff said this project is truly a community-wide project, and is particularly rewarding because the gifts go straight into the hands of the kids, and oftentimes, parents get a little something under the tree for themselves.
Iowa Kids University is currently holding a "Facebook Like" contest, and hopes to get 500 likes on their Facebook page by Christmas. The contest will be a geography project for kids, to see where the different "likes" come from, as well as proof of the kind nature of people across the world. To visit and like the page, click here.