SIOUX CITY -- The Santa spirit lives on in Mr. Goodfellow, who enters his 97th year handing out toys to Siouxland children this holiday season.
"There's nothing more noble than Christmas and kids," said Sioux City Journal Publisher Ron Peterson. "It's the one day of the year you want everybody to be happy."
The Journal's Goodfellow Charities today kicks off its $125,000 community fundraising drive to buy toys and books for more than 8,200 children, said Steve Griffith, Goodfellow Charities president.
"Last year, we had a record number of kids — over 8,200 served," he said. "We expect to be just as high this year, if not a little higher."
Griffith attributed the higher demand to the recovering economy. Parents have either lost their jobs or have had work hours reduced. The rising price of toys also is a factor. Consequently, the organization needs to raise more money than last year's $115,000 goal.
"Literally 100 percent of the money goes to buying things for the kids," Peterson said.
The organization started in 1914 when a Journal reporter spotted a young boy and his sister gazing longingly at the toys displayed in a department store window, according to Journal archives. After he wrote a story about their plight and suggested a fund be established, the donations poured into the Journal. A party was held for 500 youngsters.
Again this year, the Goodfellow bags contain two toys and a book for each child.
More than 130 Journal employees and their families join with other volunteers to raise money and help.
The Tailwaggers' goal is to sniff out contributions, large and small. The Ancient and Effervescent Order of Little Yellow Dogs order, sometimes dubbed the Grand Growlers, sponsors the annual auction to raise money through the sale of a puppy.
Volunteers help bag and hand out the gifts to families.
Peterson said any leftover toys will be donated to local nonprofits. And, he said, he has taken toys to families whose homes burned down in fires during the holidays.
"We try to do whatever we can for a child in need," he said.
Peterson said the program holds a special place in his heart.
"I believe all businesses have a social responsibility. You have to have a cause," he said.