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Paying It Forward with Christmas cheer

Southwest MN group collecting toys for a holiday gift drive

MARSHALL — Marshall area residents and businesses are coming together to make sure families in need can still have a merry Christmas — and there are ways the public can help, too. Pay It Forward Southwest MN is holding a toy donation drive this year. Individuals and businesses can sign up to sponsor children in Lyon and Murray counties, and starting today, a group of Marshall businesses will also be collecting toy donations.

When Lyon County Heart to Heart announced that it would not be doing a holiday gift drive this year because of COVID-19 concerns, the area Pay It Forward group wanted to help fill the gap, said group founder Jeremy Johnson.

By messaging the Pay It Forward Southwest MN Facebook group, people can sign up to donate gifts or gift cards.

“We match them up with a child who needs to be sponsored,” Johnson said.

Pay It Forward Southwest MN is a place where people can ask for help, and people who want to help can give what they can, or help connect people with needed resources.

“We started this group around a year ago, right before Thanksgiving,” Johnson said. Last year, group members helped put together Thanksgiving meal packages for area families, as well as collecting toys for 92 area children. But the need hasn’t gone away this year.

“This year, it’s grown exponentially,” Johnson said. He said there are more than 200 children who are signed up to receive gifts through Pay It Forward’s toy drive.

People or businesses who would like to register children, or are interested in taking part in the toy drive, should send a private message to the Pay It Forward Southwest MN page on Facebook, or call either 507-530-6960 or 507-236-0643. The cutoff date for children to be signed up to receive gifts is Dec. 4. Pay It Forward members will help match them anonymously with sponsors. Sponsors can either shop for a gift or purchase a gift card that Pay It Forward can use to buy gifts.

Johnson said the Pay It Forward group is aware of the need for COVID-19 safety, and that not everyone may feel comfortable going out to shop. In order to help reduce the amount of personal contact involved in the toy drive — a concern that factored into Heart to Heart’s decision not to do a gift drive — Pay It Forward members will deliver gifts to families along with supplies they can use to wrap their presents, organizers said.

“A lot of people have adopted families,” to get gifts for, said Pay It Forward member Jessica Karlstad. “People have been very generous, and we’re super thankful for that.”

There are also other opportunities for people to donate, Karlstad said. A total of five Marshall businesses will also serve as collection locations for people to drop off new unwrapped toys. The toys collected there will help make sure every child gets a gift if they are not all sponsored, Johnson said. He said drop boxes will be available until Dec. 11-12 at Ace Home and Hardware, the Wooden Nickel, Southwest Nutrition, Hy-Vee and Lockwood Motors.

Johnson said he is grateful to the people and businesses who are making the toy drive possible, and the volunteers who keep “paying it forward.”

“There’s a lot of work that goes into this,” he said.

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