CROTHERSVILLE

Crothersville FFA started a Christmas toy drive 27 years ago, and 12 families in Vernon Township received toys and a small bag of food.

Over time, it evolved into a toy and food drive. Last year, toys and 7.28 tons of food were collected for 96 families. Large families now can receive as many as seven boxes of food.

This year, the Crothersville Junior-Senior High School group plans to help just as many people.

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The collection ends at 3 p.m. Friday. Then Saturday, with the assistance of the Crothersville-Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department and other volunteers, the students and their adviser, Linda Begley, will deliver toys, food and hygiene products to families in need.

“When we first started, that’s kind of what we wanted it to be. We wanted it to be so big that it took more than just a 50-member FFA chapter,” Begley said. “When you deliver 7 tons of food, it takes more than 50 students. That’s a lot of food to move back and forth.”

Each year, the drive kicks off the Saturday before Thanksgiving with the FFA’s craft show, which is one of the fundraising events conducted to helps cover costs of the drive.

Members then spend the next four weeks bringing in toys and food and encouraging students from elementary to high school and the community to donate to the cause.

‘A community event’

“I would like to think that the community now knows that we do this every year after 27 years of doing this,” Begley said. “It’s a community event instead of an FFA event. We want to make it a community event.”This year, Begley ran into a bit of a roadblock when she didn’t receive a grant that she has had in the past. That money, which typically is about $3,000, is used to buy food.

Begley said local individuals came through with about half of the money to make up for the shortfall.

Plus, food, toy and monetary donations are being accepted through 3 p.m. Friday.

FFA members will then sort and box the food to be delivered at 9 a.m. Saturday.

“The local fire department here does an outstanding job helping us deliver,” Begley said. “I’ll have individuals come back that had done this 25 years ago and say, ‘I want to do this again.’ Hopefully, 25 years ago, we trained some people to be community leaders, and they are still surfacing to the top.”

To encourage people to keep donating this week, each first-period class at the school use canned goods and toys they have collected to create a wall decoration Tuesday morning. They were given a certain amount of space, and math and teamwork were included in the competition.

‘Wow. We have a lot’

Today, FFA officers will pick up food that was ordered from local stores to prepare for delivery.On Friday, the ele- mentary school’s canned food drive ends. The class that brings in the most cans will be treated to an ice cream party.

Crothersville FFA President Madison Isenhower said it has been great to see the school excited about the toy and food drive.

“Going to pick up the food and making sure we have everything and getting it back to the school and sorting through it, that’s my favorite thing to do,” she said. “And making the hygiene baskets, that’s always fun. The wall decorating is a real good thing. It seems like everybody enjoyed it a lot.”

This is Isenhower’s fourth year helping with the drive. As FFA president this year, she has had more responsibility.

“Now, I’m on top of everything, and I see how much of a challenge it is to get everything where we need it to be and just finding out what we need where and all that kind of stuff,” she said.

Deven Lemen, vice president of Crothersville FFA, said it’s neat to see the amount of items they collect.

“It’s kind of scary in the beginning because we don’t have anything,” he said. “Then we go out and buy food, and we’re like, ‘Wow! We have a lot.’ We get it, and it’s more than we thought, and we just keep adding and adding from the classes, and it really helps a lot.”

‘The feeling of joy’

Delivery day is rewarding for the FFA members and community volunteers.“It makes me realize how thankful I am to know that I have things for Christ- mas and that I know I can help community members that don’t have what they need for Christmas,” Isenhower said.

“I just get the feeling of joy seeing people’s faces when we deliver the food and stuff to them,” Lemen said. “Maybe we don’t have a lot of toys this year, but with the amount of food we have, maybe we can offset (a family’s) bill and kind of help them so people can buy Christmas presents for their kids.”

Isenhower said it’s good to see a small community come together to make a big difference.

“I think it’s amazing how the little town of Crothersville can come together and help people out in the holidays when they need stuff,” she said. “People realize they need things, and they are willing to help give back. No matter if they are in need or not, they can still help someone else out.”

She also gives a lot of credit to Begley for leading the effort each year.

“She’s the ringleader in all of this stuff,” Isenhower said. “If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have it. She has kept the momentum going each year. It’s amazing, and she is the cause of all of that.”

Begley said she appreciates all of the work the FFA members put into the project.

“I like to see their organization skills,” she said. “Even though it’s just putting food in a box, there’s a lot more that goes into it — writing letters, making telephone calls, organizing things to be the most efficient and then for the older ones to train some of the younger ones and instill that leadership ability. Then, of course, an underlying goal is to give back to the community, learn that philanthropy projects do exist, and we need to do that.”

At a glance

Donations of food, toys and money for the 27th annual Crothersville FFA Toy and Food Drive may be dropped off at the Crothersville Junior-Senior High School office, 109 N. Preston St., during school hours. The deadline is 3 p.m. Friday.

The group is still accepting names of Vernon Township area residents who need assistance from the program. Call 812-793-2051 during school hours by Friday.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.