By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Larissa Gust of Delano turned seven Sept. 15, but her birthday wish wasn’t for herself.
She asked friends and classmates at Delano Elementary to bring a donation of money to her party, which she would give to Toys for Tots.
“Larissa is a kind-hearted girl, and she has always enjoyed helping others,so this was natural for her,” her father, Ron, noted.
“We didn’t force her into doing this at all,” added her mother, Joan.
Joan had heard of the idea through her sister’s son, who had done something similar when he was Larissa’s age.
“When we were deciding how to handle Larissa’s first grade birthday,with extra kids and classmates attending, plus handling all the presents that arrive at such an event, we presented Larissa with several options for her party,” Ron noted.
One of the suggestions was to have a traditional party with presents, but Larissa said she would rather help others. So, her parents came up with a list of charities, and read them to her.
“As soon as she heard Toys for Tots, that was the one she wanted,” Joan said.
About 20 children attended Larissa’s party, donating a total of $134.
“That was more than we were expecting,” Joan said, adding that she’s grateful for the many generous families who helped make the fundraising a success.
Not getting presents from her friends didn’t bother Larissa. The children at the party played games and ate crispy chicken, fresh watermelon, and lots of cake and ice cream. There was really no extra time to open presents anyway, according to Ron.
For Larissa, the best part of the party was the piñata.
“It was a really tough one,” Larissa said.
Even though Larissa didn’t receive presents from classmates, she did get gifts from her parents and relatives.
“It was plenty, and she was happy,” Joan said.
Larissa decorated a shoebox to put all the donation money, and presented it to the Buffalo/Montrose Toys for Tots coordinator, Jackie Wurm, at the end of September.
“The money that’s donated goes to purchase toys for children ages zero to 17 in the Buffalo/Montrose area,” said Wurm, who is part of the Buffalo Rotary Club.
During the Christmas season, Toys for Tots has a distribution day, and parents who have applied to receive toys stop by to pick them up for their children.
“I see a lot of families that are struggling but hate asking for help,” Wurm said. When parents can’t afford to purchase toys, however, they are glad that Toys for Tots is able to provide assistance, she added.
The down economy has increased the number of people requesting toys, according to Wurm.
“There were more last year than the year before,” she said. “Judging from food shelf numbers, I would say it will probably be even higher this year.”
Larissa is glad to be able to help children who might not otherwise receive a toy for Christmas. According to Joan, Larissa is generous when it comes to her siblings, as well, including her 5-year-old brother, Raymond, and 3-year-old sister, Annerose.
“She’ll easily let them have what they want,” Joan said.
The Gust family often baby sits for friends’ children, and Larissa enjoys helping with that, too.
“I like taking care of babies mostly, because they are so cute,” Larissa said. “The baby we take care of is so cute. He likes to play with people’s hands.”
To learn more about the Buffalo Toys for Tots, call (763) 269-5739 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.