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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Austin HornbostelCalifornia Area Chamber of Commerce President Blake Howard presents Moniteau County Toys for Tots Program Coordinator Dan Mesey with a check for $1,000 from the Chamber. Chamber members Brad Baer and Norris Gerhart joined Howard in presenting the donation, which Mesey said has been a consistent show of support from the Chamber since Toys for Tots came to Moniteau County in 2017.

Moniteau County's Toys for Tots program is joining forces with Angel Tree this year to better help both programs serve underprivileged youth across Moniteau County.

Toys for Tots, in its third year in the county, serves more than 300 children in families earning below the poverty line on average each year, as does Angel Tree. Last year, Toys for Tots provided 358 Moniteau County children with Christmas gifts. Angel Tree's focus in this year's collaboration will be on providing needy children with necessities such as clothing, while Toys for Tots will use its buying power to provide toys.

Angel Tree Program Coordinator Lori Heather, in her first year at the helm, said the partnership with Toys for Tots will be a great help in serving Moniteau County youths and freeing up Angel Tree's pool of resources to meet families' needs. Traditionally, Heather said, families were officially restricted to filling out an application for one program or the other, not both. This year, however, will be different.

"We wanted families in need to be able to apply to both programs," Heather said.

Angel Tree will be collecting program applications until the end of October, and will have trees placed at area churches and banks to serve as drop-off locations for interested volunteers to "adopt" families.

The partnership makes sense, Moniteau County Program Coordinator Dan Mesey said, since Toys for Tots is designed to assist other charitable endeavors as well as the children it provides with gifts.

Toys for Tots operates more off of monetary donations than its counterpart in Angel Tree — Mesey said while their partnership is a positive, it could mean the combined effort sees an increase in the total amount of children it's serving, resulting in a need for even more contributions.

"It is imperative that we get contributions, because it's the only way that this program will function," Mesey said. "It's an opportunity for businesses to give back a little bit to the community."

Toys for Tots, nationally, is a Marine Corps program — Mesey said he answers to a Marine Corps general as a program volunteer. As a result, he said there are strict regulations regarding the work he does, especially when communicating donations to the Toys for Tots headquarters in Washington, D.C. Mesey said on top of weekly reports he relays to home base from Oct. 1 to the second week of January each year, he must send any contributions given to him for Moniteau County's Toys for Tots program to the foundation's accounting office via UPS within 24 hours.

Because of this last requirement especially, donations of currency can be difficult to process.

"If (someone) were to hand me a $20 bill, or if we had a collection box and we received $100 in currency in that box, I have to take that to one of my board members — which I usually take it to (California Mayor) Norris (Gerhart) — and he has to sit with me and we have to count this money out," Mesey said. "We have to agree to the sum that we count, then have to sign off on a form. Then, I have to take that money and get a money order."

There are still more steps after that, Mesey said, as he then has to fill out another form and is still required to get the original donation sent to headquarters within 24 hours. Mesey said processing donations of paper money is almost like jumping through hoops.

With these regulations in mind, Mesey said checks for donations are by far the best way for businesses and individuals countywide to support the program. He said the best time for those who might be considering donating is as soon as possible.

"Because we can't order toys unless we have money there to pay for it," Mesey said. "So the sooner (we account for) how much money we have to spend, we correlate that money with the amount of children that we have to provide for. When those two come together, that's when we can start ordering the toys."

Mesey said contributions to Toys for Tots are tax deductible because of its status as a charitable donation, providing benefits to contributors, program volunteers and even advertisers.

"It's kind of a win-win situation, really," Mesey said. "The kids get the toys, and the people that are generous enough to give us money can write it off on their taxes."

When purchasing toys, Mesey said Toys for Tots is limited in that it can't purchase toys that cost more than $30, so it can ensure there's always enough money to help every child rather than just a few. It is helped in this endeavor, however, by being able to purchase toys directly from distributors' catalogs below wholesale price. Mesey said he usually asks a Moniteau County-area business to help him with picking the toys themselves. This year, teachers with the California school district will assist him in this task. He said this is because he believes these individuals will be more in touch with what kinds of toys children will be excited to receive.

The national Toys for Tots Foundation provides additional toys to counties free of charge, in proportion to the contributions they've collected locally. This year, Mesey said the foundation is set to send around $6,000 worth of toys to Moniteau County, based on what the county historically collects in donations.

Moniteau County is one of only 800 counties in the nation with a Toys for Tots program — Mesey said this is for good reason, as he said he thinks the community truly possesses a giving mentality. He said the California Area Chamber of Commerce has been signed on as a steady reporter since the very beginning, having given a $1,000 donation this year, as have the area banks.

"These are the most giving and caring people that I have ever met, and I have been all over," Mesey said. "They just have a compassion for people who need things."

Ultimately, Mesey said he wants people in the county to understand the program is truly a reflection of the community's philosophy of life, and having a sense of pride and ownership in what Moniteau County Toys for Tots does can set an example for other counties.

Those interested in donating should contact Mesey at 660-427-5645 — checks are preferred and should read "Pay to the order of Moniteau County Toys for Tots." Members of the community can also help by hosting a toy collection box at an area business starting Nov. 1 or donating new (i.e. store bought and in original packaging) toys — Mesey said receiving new toys as donations rather than "hand-me-downs" is especially important in following the ideals of the national Toys for Tots Foundation.

"We're very conscious about building this child's self-esteem and self-worth — that's really what's behind Toys for Tots," Mesey said. "When we give a toy to a kid, we're doing more than just occupying their time with a toy. We're telling that kid that they are important."

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