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First annual Molalla Coat and Toy Drive just one of many programs that came together for a brighter Christmas

For families who may have had little to no presents under the tree this year, area businesses came together to provide for their fellow community members.

Boxes filled to the brim with remote control cars, princess dolls, board games and art supplies lined the wall at O'Reilly Auto Parts on Dec. 22. Volunteers distributed coats of all sizes and colors to the piles of toys ready to go out to families in need.

The first annual Molalla Coat and Toy Drive was organized by a group of local businesses in partnership with the Molalla Service Center. The service center, which served Christmas food boxes to more than 180 families, found that 75 families also were in need of gifts and coats this year.

COURTESY PHOTO: JEFF COHEN - Volunteers organized donations Dec. 21 for the first-ever coat and toy drive in Molalla.

"Kids don't understand hard times," said Jeff Cohens, O'Reilly Auto Parts manager and drive organizer. "I wanted to do something for the kids, especially after this year."

Participating businesses included U.S. Bank, Bi-Mart, Dollar Tree, Grocery Outlet, Cowboy Coffee and the city of Molalla. With help from Mayor Scott Keyser, word got around, and donations were made to stores around town.

It was important to organizers to keep donations local.

"We're a small rural community," U.S. Bank branch manager Jennifer Taylor said. "The more we can do locally, the better."

Each family received age-appropriate toys for their children in addition to stocking stuffers, socks and coats. Over 7,000 items in total were donated, in addition to cash donations. Extra warm socks and small toys collected during the drive also will be given to the local fire department.

"It makes it so (the kids) have toys and they don't have to go without while all the other kids have stuff," said one recipient. "The nice thing about the service center and Molalla, in general, is that whenever anyone needs something, they're always there to stand up."

Police play Secret Santa

Once again this year, the Molalla Police Department organized a Secret Santa to give unsuspecting citizens $100 in cash.

The tradition, now in its sixth year, is a way for members of the Molalla community to give to others and have positive interactions with the police department. All the money is donated by citizens or local businesses; the police department facilitates giving on behalf of the anonymous donors.

Recipients are selected at random, either during a routine traffic stop, in store parking lots or during other interactions with the police.

COURTESY PHOTO: MOLALLA POLICE DEPARTMENT - The Molalla Police Department surprised local residents with a $100 cash gift for the holidays.

"Just by random selection, we've selected some really good people that really need it this year," said Nicole Ricker, support services supervisor at the Molalla Police Department.

The program began in 2015 with several anonymous local businesses donating $1,000. It has grown by word of mouth over the years, and this year 27 recipients received a cash gift.

"We have the most (donations) this year ever," Ricker said. "With the fires and everything this last year, it seems like everyone wants to help out and do more."

FBLA students help students

At Molalla High School, students in the Future Business Leaders of America club helped organize a giving tree to ensure other students have gifts this year. FBLA members set up a tree in the main office with tags with the wish list items for less fortunate students and helped with other behind-the-scenes preparation.

Gift recipients remained anonymous, but students were encouraged to pick up a star and purchase gifts for their fellow classmates and community members.

COURTESY PHOTO: CORRIE ELLIS - Members of the Molalla Future Business Leaders of America chapter at Molalla High School organized a giving tree to help other students receive gifts.

"I really want to promote the kids picking up the stars," FBLA adviser Corri Ellis said. "We made it a rule that a star can have no more than three presents," to keep things equitable between each of the recipients as the program becomes more well known.

The club was able to provide three gifts each to 27 students. Each student also received a $30 Safeway gift card donated by Interfor Lumber of Molalla.

As the program has grown, more community members have reached out, like Interfor Lumber, to offer to help. But the demand has increased as well.

"When the pandemic hit, we knew that we would have more students that were needy," Ellis said.

Last year, the organization advertised more on social media and continued to do so this year. Last year, 50 families received gifts from the giving tree.

Students from all Molalla-area schools can participate. Requests may come from families directly or from staff who know of families that may have a hard time providing presents. Ellis hopes to continue the giving tree well into the future.


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