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Smitty’s Toys for Tots to Teens has them lined up at the door
Once again this year, local residents lined up outside Smitty’s Family Restaurant Friday bringing Christmas gifts and waiting for a free breakfast.
This is the 19th year the Herle family has run Toys for Tots to Teens, an event to collect Christmas presents and donations for less fortunate families in the area.
The items are distributed by the Kiwanis Club of Osoyoos.
“It’s our family’s thing that we do for the community,” said restaurant owner Wendy Herle, who along with husband Wilfred and daughter Tammy has organized the event each year going back to when they owned the Husky Truck Stop in Osoyoos.
Of course it couldn’t be done without the hard work of staff and volunteers, as well as support from the community, she added.
“Thanks to this community, I’m overwhelmed,” said Herle. “The support that we get every single year, you have no idea. I’m always overwhelmed.”
Herle thought this year’s pile of presents looked bigger and more people came to the restaurant, but a computer crash in the middle of it all made it hard to come up with total numbers.
Last year, a total of 229 breakfasts were served, but this year Herle guessed the number might be approaching 300.
As guests jammed into the doorway to get out of the cold, a lineup formed beside a large pile of presents under a Christmas tree and the pile kept getting higher.
Players from the Osoyoos Coyotes, wearing their jerseys, and the Osoyoos Soroptimists cleared and set tables and helped direct traffic.
Back in the kitchen, volunteer Randy Kassian, who comes each year, flipped large amounts of bacon and hash browns while staffers Carol Gabrieau, the manager, and Glenn Wood prepared eggs and other breakfast items.
The computer glitch in the midst of the activity was a challenge for staff and volunteers who had to switch to handwritten bills, Herle said, though she thinks they handled it well without guests noticing.
Meanwhile, Santa and Mrs. Claus, made the rounds at the tables greeting guests.
With the retirement of Mike De Salaberry, John Coburn from Midway has taken over the beard and red suit, accompanied by his wife Teresa.
The breakfast ran from 7 – 10 a.m., but Herle said this year was busy right from when doors opened, even though the first half hour has been slower in the past.
“I think this community always comes forward when it has to do with people in need,” said Herle. “This community pulls itself together and Christmas is a good time because it’s a sentimental time anyway. We have a lot of seniors that maybe don’t need to buy gifts for their families anymore, so this is a way of them giving to little children they don’t even know. And it’s a social event.”
Some people gave more expensive gifts, such as a DVD player, Herle said.
“People are generous,” she said. “They give very nice gifts.”
Herle said she has no contact with the receiving families although apparently there are a number of families in need. Those contacts are all handled by the Kiwanis Club.
“I don’t know where any of this goes, and that’s the beauty of it,” she said. “It’s like you’re a secret Santa and you’re part of the community of secret Santas and none of us know where it’s going.”