GCSO wraps up largest toy drive to date

The halls look a little bare at the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office this week, with most of the donations for the annual toy drive, which have been accumulating since a little before Thanksgiving, have made their way to the homes of 300 local children, where they will be opened on Christmas morning.

It was the sheriff’s largest toy drive to date.

“With the exception of just a few stragglers, we had distributed all the toys as of Thursday of last week,” said Gulf County Sheriff Mike Harrison. “And the drive looks to be in very good shape.”

The sheriff’s annual toy drive distributed toys, clothing, grocery gift cards and other items last week to Gulf County families in need, as identified by the schools and other organizations working with youths.

Total donations from the community, including toys and monetary donations, added up to about $23,000 to $25,000.

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 inflation and an incoming recession looking like it will create an even greater need to address next year.

““We anticipate having a very busy year with the decline in the economy and the price of everything,” Harrison said in November. “I think there’s a lot of people that are needing assistance.”

But growing need is not the only reason this year’s toy drive was so large. Harrison said that without help from other local organizations, the effort would not be possible.

“The Coastal Communities Association, Coastal Community Initiatives, they collected and then went and bought a lot of the toys,” Harrison said. “It just went very well with everybody working together.”

“I’m just glad to be able to do it for the community… We live in a great place here, and with people stepping up to help those in need, it speaks a lot about our community.”

Community involvement in the event has grown steadily over the years, Harrison said, and the additional donations and volunteers proved especially helpful this year, with Pache Baston, the Sheriff’s Office employee who typically leads toy drive preparations, out for medical reasons.

“It wasn’t exactly easy this year, with Pache, our organizer here at the agency, in and out of the hospital,” said Harrison, adding that Baston was recovering well.

“As always, the community steps up whenever there’s a bigger need… That’s exactly what we had this year.”

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 NonDoc.com 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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