Heart to Heart full of ‘oh my gosh’ moments

Submitted photo Toys for Tots representatives presented a check for $10,000 to Heart to Heart members. They are standing left to right: Joann Chaplin, Ashley Ludemann, Tam Schons, Katie Almlie, Pam Cooreman, Cecil Naatz, Kurt Enderson, Brandy Ricketts.

MARSHALL — JoAnn Chaplin says she will never forget the most rewarding part of her first year volunteering with Heart to Heart.

“It was a motorcycle run,” the human resources manager at Hy-Vee said. “It was the last Saturday of the month of July and the bikes came from southwest and they came over a hill. The very first biker you saw was Santa Claus. And everybody would have their toys wrapped on their bikes. It was very rewarding.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh.'”

Every year has been a “oh my gosh” moment for Marshall Radio General Manager Brad Strootman. That’s actually more than 30 years of collecting toys and food for distribution to the needy during the Christmas season.

“It all started innocently enough,” Strootman said. “My wife and I used to give the staff Christmas Eve off at noon. Then we would simulcast the two stations we had then and we would tape up to 4 o’clock and then we would go to automation. And it was on that first year in 1985 that some of the workers that were working at Gesme Printing, which is now Western Printing called in and started a food challenge for the Food Shelf. They would match food donations for the next four hours while we were on the air.

“Well, it just went so fast. I can’t remember if we raised a $1,000 or $1,500 or $2,000. But bam, it happened. Then we started talking what we as a community — could we create a Christmas fund that would provide every family in need in the area with a traditional Christmas meal? The turkey, the mashed potatoes, the sweet potatoes, the cranberries, the beans, the mushroom soup, the dinner rolls and gifts for the children.”

That next summer, Strootman said, the first meeting was held.

“It was decided let’s go for it,” Strootman said. “And in 1986 we successfully pulled it off. We raised enough money and enough donations in food and gifts that we provided a traditional Christmas dinner.”

Heart to Heart has grown through the years, according to Strootman. Food, toys and cash have been collected throughout the year in with the distribution date set for Dec. 16 at the National Guard Armory in Marshall. Strootman, however, said cash is collected throughout the year.

Heart to Heart will be at the Hy-Vee in Marshall 4-6:30 p.m. Thursday and again on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to collect food and cash donations.

Chaplin urges area residents to give to the organization. Through the years she has seen the need and appreciation from those who have benefited.

“I see the people that have benefited, but I also see the people who come back year after year to help wrap all the gifts and get all the food products ready in boxes. We have a group of farmers that come every year on Thursday (before distribution) and they help box up the gifts and food,” she said.

“Then we see the children who make ornaments or they make tags to put on the packages. And you see them sing Christmas carols.”

Chaplin said distribution day is special for her.

“It’s very rewarding. It just brings tears to your eyes to see all the people in need. They are so thankful,” she said.

“For the last decade we have been around 625 families a year that we serve,” Strootman said. “In 2009 we served 1,875 individuals, in 2010 in was 2,340, in 2011 it was 2,472, in 2012 it was 2,262, in 2013 it was 2,115 and in 2014 it drops off to 1,519. So the number moves each year a little bit. In 2015 we grew back to 2,100 and last year it was 2,260.”

While Strootman admits Heart to Heart has had its ups and downs through the years, he likes to brag that it has “never missed a year.”