Sheriff’s office distributes toys in biggest toy drive to date

There are still thousands of dollars of donations lining the halls at the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office in Port St. Joe, but Pache Batson, who manages civil process for the GCSO, said she already feels relieved.

Batson has spent the past few months alongside Sheriff Mike Harrison orchestrating the sheriff’s annual toy drive. This year, the project will serve 250 Gulf County children. Batson said coordinating the effort has been a massive amount of work.

“It’s not over yet,” she said. “But now the toys are starting to go out to families, and I feel like I can just breathe.”

The sheriff’s annual toy drive, which began taking donations around Thanksgiving, distributed toys, clothing, grocery gift cards and other items on Wednesday and Thursday to Gulf County families in need, as identified by the schools and other organizations working with youths.

Harrison said that this year’s toy drive was the largest the sheriff’s office had ever put on, at least in the ten years since he took office. The need in Gulf County, he said, is growing, with the youth poverty rate expected to rise above the national effort in the upcoming 2020 census calculations.

But growing need is not the only reason this year’s toy drive was so large. Harrison said that over the years, the Sheriff’s Office has taken on the responsibility of gathering Christmas gifts for the county’s youth from various other community organizations.

“It used to be that everyone had small toy drives, and then slowly we just sort of absorbed those,” he said. “And I’m honored that people trust us to handle, I mean, it’s thousands of dollars of donations.”

The drive would not be possible without the level of community involvement that Harrsion said has grown steadily over the years.

This year, he was near certain there would be a surplus of donated toys, which he said the Sheriff’s Office had a plan for.

“Anything that is still here when we are done will be taken to the communities impacted by the tornados,” he said. “We have already contacted some other departments to make that happen and get everything there.”

The sheriff said he expected to be able to send a large number of donations to Kentucky, Tennessee and other affected areas due to the generous and large donations from Gulf County citizens.

“Their communities were decimated. We know what that’s like. I remember the trucks of toys that came here after Hurricane Michael for our children.”

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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