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Farmington's Toys for Town still humming along

Toys for Town drop-off bins such as this one made it easy for residents to donate new, unwrapped toys to the Farmington Police Department's annual toy drive, Toys for Town. (RiverTown Multimedia photo by Jennifer Steichen)

If you live in Farmington, chances are you're familiar with Toys for Town. Perhaps it's your family's tradition to buy and drop off toys at one of the collection sites around town. Maybe you've helped wrap presents and deliver them to local families. Maybe you've even been on the receiving end.

Toys for Town is an annual toy drive organized by the Farmington Police Department to help local families who are struggling financially to make Christmas special for their kids. What differentiates it from other holiday toy drives is the fact that every single toy donated to Toys for Town goes directly into the hands of a child in Farmington.

"It's an institution here in town," Farmington Police Chief Brian Lindquist said. "Everybody is familiar with it. Schools and local businesses have been a part of it for a long time."

Toys for Town was born 29 years ago when Lindquist's predecessor, former police chief Dan Siebenaler, learned of a family that couldn't afford Christmas presents for their kids. Siebenaler and his fellow officers pooled their money together to buy the family presents and a nice holiday meal.

"From there, it just sort of grew," Lindquist said. "We wondered, if we found one family, how many are we missing?"

Lindquist said Toys for Town is definitely a community effort. Local businesses volunteer to serve as drop-off sites for new and unwrapped toys. High school volunteers use monetary donations to shop for toys, and also help count the toys and sort them by age and gender. Others give up a Saturday morning during the hectic holiday season to select and wrap toys for the children they are assigned. And some of them stick around to help members of the fire and police departments deliver those gifts to families' doorsteps. Lindquist said many volunteers even bring their own supplies.

"It's a ritual," he said. "People bring their kids. It's just a desire to be part of that giving feeling."

Lindquist said the first year he orchestrated the event, it took him six and a half hours to shop for gifts and 10 hours to sort them. Now, he finishes his shopping in a half-hour and has all the gifts sorted in 40 minutes, thanks to high school volunteers.

"I am just the figurehead for this," he said. "Would you rather have 100 percent from one, or 1 percent from 100? There are so many hands in the mix that it couldn't be done without them, but I get to stand and watch it all happen."

Lindquist said the toy drive has helped an average of 250 children from 80 to 90 families over the past six or seven years. As of Monday, 210 kids and 80 families were registered to receive gifts. Families also receive a bag of groceries with all the essential ingredients for a nice holiday meal.

Oftentimes, the gifts come from people who don't have a lot to give, Lindquist said. One year a young girl used all the money she had been saving up for several years to buy toys for Toys for Town.

"It warms your heart to see it happen," Lindquist said. "How unbelievably unselfish that is to give that all away?"

Even though all donations were picked up from area businesses on Tuesday, Lindquist said toys will continue to come in. But not to fear, he said. Any extra toys laying around when the event is over will be picked up by the National Guard in Rosemount and taken to the Armory, where they will be distributed to military families whose loved ones are deployed. Others will go to Toys for Tots or to families the police department does not find out about until the last minute, Lindquist said.

If you would like to help wrap toys or deliver gifts to families, you can show up at Farmington High School at 9:00 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17.