Hard to believe we are headed into year 16 of the annual "Stuff The Van Toy Drive", presented by Taco John's - as Casper's Townsquare Media stations (My Country 95-5, 107-9 The River, 104.7 KISS-FM, Rock 96.7, K2 Radio, and AM 1400, ESPN Radio) team up to help Casper kids in need.  Host Donovan Short, plus members of Toys For Tots and the Wyoming Food For Thought Project will be live at both Casper Walmart locations from Monday, December 16 through Saturday, December 21 - from 7am until 7pm each day of the drive.

"We're hoping this year will be the biggest and best yet - thanks to our partnership with Taco John's, and the fact that we're teaming up with Toys For Tots and the Marines - which will allow us to reach more kids than ever with toys, and of course the excess cash that goes to feed these kids beyond the holiday with the Weekend Backpack Program at the Wyoming Food For Thought Project.", says Short.  "New this year will be the opportunity to donate at EITHER Walmart for the entire week, we'll have crews on-site at both places for the entire week, rather than splitting the week between the two." What do they need?  "We're expecting that we'll be in a similar situation as years past - starting the week needing a little bit of everything for all age groups, and typically, as the drive goes on, we end up focusing in on gifts for the older kids, the teens and tweens that often get looked past when folks buy for the little ones.  We're working this year with the Casper Boys and Girls Club, Casper Salvation Army, and the Child Development Center Of Natrona County, in addition to distributing through some local food pantries - all of whom will be giving us lists and head counts of the kids they're serving this year right before we kick off.  We'll be live on all six radio stations throughout the week with the very latest updates as things come in - and if you're shopping on-site where we are, you're always welcome to stop by and ask our favorite question, 'what do the kids need'.  We've got volunteers that will head you in the right direction and give you some shopping ideas."

In addition to actual gifts - Stuff The Van takes much needed financial contributions, and once the Christmas toy and clothing needs are met, puts those excess funds to work feeding food-insecure Casper kids.  This year, the funds will be directed to the Weekend Backpack Program, administered through the Natrona County School District, with help from the Wyoming Food For Thought Project, Stuff The Van's organizational partner.

"Due to the extra generosity of the Casper community, we've often been in the fortunate position of having a little more than we need at the end of 'Stuff The Van'," says Short.  "We were looking for ways to reach these at-risk kids beyond just December 25 - and learned a few years ago that hunger is a huge children's issue here in Casper. There's tons of children who honestly don't know where their next meal is coming from. You get those kids away from things like free and reduced-cost breakfast and lunch programs at schools, and they're often going hungry at night, on weekends, on holidays and school breaks.  Part of what organizations like the Wyoming Food For Thought Project and the Weekend Backpack Program are doing is not only raising awareness and helping generate much-needed dollars, but reaching out and identifying these children at school - and discreetly sending them home with easy-to-prepare foods that will keep them going over time periods when they might be vulnerable to hunger, and make sure they can focus on the important stuff, like learning, and being kids."

Jamie Purcell, from the Wyoming Food For Thought Project says the need in Casper is bigger than you might imagine: "We are currently sustaining a program of 250 kids but truly, we need to serve over 3,000. We're thinking outside the box now, asking churches and community groups to get involved in an organized manner. Managing the logisitcs with the Natrona County School District, we are looking at ways to grow the program so that all of the kids in need are fed. The extra money raised will be invested right here in Casper, building on the solid program and bringing resources together to help our kids grow."

While the toys, clothes, and funds can be dropped off to Stuff The Van volunteers at Walmart during the week of December 16- a monetary donation can be dropped at any location of Hilltop National Bank from now through the end of the year, just make sure to tell them it's for "Stuff The Van".  If you or someone you know needs assistance this year - they can register for toy help here, via Toys For Tots.

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