“Whatever their situation is, Santa will find these kids,“ Sheila Callahan said.
Callahan, general manager of Mountain Broadcasting, was one of the volunteers who set up tables to collect unwrapped toys at the entrances to the stadium during the University of Montana vs. Sacramento State football game Saturday. The Mountain Broadcasting Foundation is the group that runs the Griz for Kids fundraiser.
She carefully restacked her table in front of the Adams Center, which was covered in soccer balls, stuffed animals and dolls of Elsa from the Disney movie “Frozen.”
The foundation started a toy drive for low-income families and kids in Missoula about 20 years ago called Mountain of Giving. In 2005, the drive became Griz for Kids when then Griz offensive lineman Chris Orwig approached the group, saying he wanted to help give back to a community that always supported him as a player.
“Between being a student and practice and such he was very busy. So he said how about we have the fundraiser at the game?” Callahan said.
Since then, the annual drive is always chaired by a Griz student athlete. This year the project is helmed by Grizzly football defensive end and Missoula native, Zack Wagenmann.
Wagenmann said he became interested in Griz for Kids last year when his friend and former Griz linebacker Brock Coyle was the chair of the fundraiser. When he was asked to take the lead this year, he gladly accepted.
“I think it’s really important. The community comes out and supports us every Saturday, and it’s cool to be able to give back to that community,” Wagenmann said.
He said members of the football team know there are kids across the state who look up to the student athletes who put on the shoulder pads and jerseys, and they take that aspect of being a role model seriously.
“I remember when I was a kid, going to games and just thinking that those guys were the ones I was looking up to,” Wagenmann said.
Callahan said having Griz athletes spread the word about the fundraiser has allowed the foundation to reach even more people, and help even more kids.
“You’re busy with school, practice, film and the weight room but even a football player can give back,” Callahan said.
The toys and money collected Saturday will be used to help 10 local agencies that work with low income families and children who might not otherwise receive Christmas gifts.
After the collection is finished, Callahan and the other members of the fundraiser will compare the list of what was donated to the wish lists given to them by the kids, then distribute tags with the names of the remaining items listed on them to companies and stores around Missoula the week before Thanksgiving. Shoppers can grab a tag, purchase the gift on it and return the item to the store to be donated to the drive.
“We want to be able to put the gifts under the tree that the kids want,” she said. “It’s all about ‘Frozen’ and Star Wars Legos this year.”
Beach Transportation provides a warehouse to store the toys so the social workers who work with the families don’t have to worry about going out to collect gifts for the holiday, they can just come to pick them up.
The money collected will be used to buy more gifts, especially age ranges that can be difficult to shop for.
“Everyone knows what to buy for a 7- to 10-year-old. But it’s harder to find the right gift for little kids younger than that or older, teenage-age kids,” Callahan said.
Courtesy of http://www.gogriz.com/