SIOUX CITY | Sioux City parents who struggle to put presents under the Christmas tree will again get some much-needed help from a massive toy handout next month.
For the 100th consecutive year, the Ancient and Effervescent Order of the Little Yellow Dog is marshaling its resources to help with the Journal's Mr. Goodfellow annual toy giveaway. The project, which is organized by the staff of the Sioux City Journal, provides gifts for about 8,000 needy youngsters each year.
"There are so many kids in this community whose parents can't afford Christmas presents," said Goodfellow Charities President Steve Griffith. "It's never the kids' fault. The kids need something, and it's a great thing to help them enjoy Christmastime."
On two dates each December, the Goodfellows offer children two toys and a book, all personalized based on age and gender.
"We've got remote-control cars for boys, dolls and stuff for girls, board games, learning toys and a number toys for the younger kids," Griffith said. "It's all new, really top-of-the-line stuff."
The Mr. Goodfellow Fund got its start on a cold December day in 1914, when a Journal reporter spotted a pair of poor children crying over a storefront Christmas display. According to stories handed down by generations of the paper's staffers, the unnamed journalist bought each of the children a pair of warm mittens.
Deeply moved by the encounter, the man rallied the paper's staff to hold a Christmas party for all of the city's children in need. The gathering was held at the former National Theater on Fifth Street, and several hundred children were admitted to take a donated gift from beneath an enormous Christmas tree.
Today, the project has taken on new dimensions. This year's toy budget has grown to $126,000, Griffith said.
The group buys the gifts a few months early, then relies on fundraising efforts throughout the holiday season to cover the cost heading into the next year. Griffith said there's no overhead on the project and no volunteers are paid, so all of the donations go directly toward the presents.
The volunteers in charge of collecting those donations, dubbed Tailwaggers, say they get a lot of support from the community. Jacquie Rygh said she's seen it for 30 years.
"The people I talk to are very giving," she said. "Before I start out some years, I'm worried what the response will be, but they always quell my fears as soon as I start."
While the toys are the big draw each year, Rygh said the event has had a deep impact on a lot of participants.
She recounted the time a young co-worker at a former job started giving Rygh large donations for the Goodfellow Fund each year.
"She was married and had kids and a good job, but it still really struck me to get a donation of that size from an individual," Rygh said. "I asked, 'Are you sure?' She looked at me and said that if it hadn't been for Little Yellow Dog, she and her siblings never would have been able to celebrate Christmas."
Goodfellow Charities Treasurer Sue Stusse said she's heard similar stories from several Little Yellow Dog donors.
"There are some people who contribute now who'll tell us they still have the doll they got when they were younger," she said. "This does a lot of good for a lot of people, and the community seems to recognize that."
A large portion of the annual budget is raised by the popular Little Yellow Dog Auction, held each year at the Ho-Chunk Centre. During the event, a purebred puppy is sold to the highest bidder — sometimes netting tens of thousands of dollars.
Last year's dog, a Springer spaniel named Snickers, sold for $15,000. In 2011, Stoney the yellow Lab set a new record at the auction when he sold for $45,000.
This year's auction is Dec. 13.
"It's become a traditional, fun event for the community," Stusse said. "If you go to the auction this year, you'll see the spirit of the community really coming together to buy that dog and give proceeds for these kids."
Stusse said toys will be distributed on Dec. 14 and 20, and that anyone in need is welcome to sign up. Participants can fill out applications that run in the Journal and the Siouxland Weekly Shopper's Guide.
"Sioux City just keeps giving, year after year after year," Stusse said.