Sgt. Jeremie Walker of the Marines Grand Rapids Reserve, Frank Squires Elementary Principal Tracy Hertsel and Gunnery Sgt. Kenneth Lebeda of the Marines South Ridge Reserve were instrumental in organizing the Cass County Toys for Tots collection. More than 3,000 toys were picked up by hundreds of families in the community on Saturday at Sam Adams Elementary. (Vigilant photo/AARON MUELLER)
Sgt. Jeremie Walker of the Marines Grand Rapids Reserve, Frank Squires Elementary Principal Tracy Hertsel and Gunnery Sgt. Kenneth Lebeda of the Marines South Ridge Reserve were instrumental in organizing the Cass County Toys for Tots collection. More than 3,000 toys were picked up by hundreds of families in the community on Saturday at Sam Adams Elementary. (Vigilant photo/AARON MUELLER)

Archived Story

Christmas a bit merrier for hundreds of kids

Published 4:58pm Wednesday, December 23, 2009

By AARON MUELLER
Cassopolis Vigilant

Hundreds of smiling faces passed through Sam Adams Elementary School at the annual Cass County Toys for Tots pickup day on Saturday.

But it was the Christmas that almost wasn’t for hundreds of families in the community. When the organizer of the drive became ill last month, it looked like the drive would die.

That is until the first week of December when Gunnery Sgt. Kenneth Lebeda of the Marines South Ridge Reserve and Tracy Hertsel, the principal of Frank Squires Early Elementary, stepped up to make it happen.

“The gal that ran it became ill and nobody picked it up,” Hertsel said. “It truly was going to drop, so Sgt. Lebeda and I wanted to keep it going, so we worked on getting volunteers to keep it up. What compelled me to get involved is that we were taking calls from people with donation boxes and wanted to know who was going to pick them up. That’s when we involved the volunteer firemen of Cass County. They’ve been collecting toys for the last week.”

Hertsel said it was a hectic two weeks getting the event organized but was well worth the effort.

More than 3,000 toys were donated to help around 700 children in Cass County.

“People really opened their hearts and their pocket books for this event,” Hertsel said.

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