Volunteers known affectionately as elves arrived at the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center bright and early Wednesday, Dec. 20, joining a team ready to provide gifts and baskets to hundreds of area families throughout the day.

Volunteers known affectionately as elves arrived at the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center bright and early Wednesday, Dec. 20, joining a team ready to provide gifts and baskets to hundreds of area families throughout the day.

The annual U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots event provides new, unwrapped toys, books and food baskets to families with low incomes in Marion, Ralls, Pike and Lewis counties. Volunteers with the Salvation Army had 650 baskets on hand to donate in Hannibal, Shelbina and Bowling Green. Douglass Community Services and Hannibal Parks and Recreation supervised the toy donations, which reached almost 1,350 children in 600 families with a new twist for 2017.

Toys for Tots co-coordinator Aron Lee said that parents select five stocking stuffers, three books and five toys for each of their children, in place of a pre-packaged box containing some of the toys from previous years. Lee commended all of the elves donning their colorful Christmas hats — assisting parents with filling their carts, checking off lists and helping to load vehicles with Christmas gifts.

“They love this,” Lee said. “They’re here to really help the families. I know it’s tough for some of these families this time of year — and they’re here to bring a little more cheer during this tough time and provide them the help that they need for these kids to have a merry Christmas.”

Becky Elzea picked up gifts for a client she represents from Northeast Independent Living Services, noting this was her first time to bring along her grandson, three-year-old Ayden Wear.

“It is wonderful, it helps a lot of people and I think it’s just great,” she said. “The people here are wonderful.”

Tammy Conley checked out the tables covered in books for children of all ages. She said the Toys for Tots event helped her provide gifts for her 12-year-old child and two 17-year-old children, echoing Elzea’s sentiments about the kindness of the elves and other volunteers.

“It helps out a lot for people who don’t have the extra money to get Christmas,” she said.

Volunteer Michelle Dean assisted for the first time this year, and she said she appreciated seeing community members coming together to make a difference for families who need a bit of help during Christmas. Delia Marshall, Dean’s friend and a participant, said she greeted a single mother who started crying when she found out she would be able to provide Christmas gifts for her children.

“It touched my heart,” she said.

“I think kids do need a good Christmas,” Dean said. “And nowadays, it’s kind of hard to afford Christmas.”

“I had a little one-year-old here... she was wishing me a merry Christmas, gave me a hug and said ‘thank you’ and I wanted to cry,” Dean said. “This means a lot, that I can come out and help families get Christmas for their kids.”

Several area organizations and businesses helped make Toys for Tots the largest event ever, including General Mills, Watlow, Pam Neff, Hannibal Regional Healthcare, YMCA, Dollar General, Orscheln and ServPro of Hannibal, which donated a truck to transport toys from the warehouse to the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center. To learn more about the Toys for Tots program, please visit https://www.toysfortots.org or contact Douglass Community Services

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com