The Johnson County Public Safety Toy and Food Drive will help bring holiday cheer and new toys to area families. Customers at Gardner Walmart, 1725 E. Santa Fe, can contribute from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 23 and 24. Photo courtesy of Kiesa Kay

Kiesa Kay
Special to The Gardner News
People who spend their professional lives saving other people’s lives will spend the weekend before Thanksgiving harvesting happiness for Johnson County families in need.
The Johnson County Public Safety Toy and Food Drive happens at area Walmart stores from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 23 and 24, said Sgt. Steve Benz, Gardner PD public information officer.
“We’ll be in front of Walmart handing out lists of toys and gift items that families need,” Benz said. “While customers are shopping, they can drop off items on their way out of the store. We can take gift cards and cash, too.”
Participating helpers include employees from Gardner Police Department, Johnson County Fire District #1, Johnson County Med Act, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Olathe Fire Department, Shawnee Fire Department and Shawnee Police Department. These folks will work all weekend to gather toys, gift cards, and food from customers.
“When we get those gift cards, it really helps families who have teenagers,” Benz said. “The younger children really enjoy toys, and with the teens, it can be nice to let them know they can go buy what they like.”
After the donations have been collected, they will be trucked to a central site, then sorted by age and gender preferences and put in big bins. Volunteers receive a list of families by secret number, instead of name, to protect the families’ privacy. They fill up bags with items that fit the families’ preferences.
When distribution day arrives, the families have separate times to arrive and gather up their gifts. Their children meet with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and they receive candy, board games, and bags of gifts. Families can apply for the program at The program, which began in 2003, brought hope and happiness to more than 200 families last year, Benz said.
The food collected will be taken to food pantries in Gardner, Edgerton, and Spring Hill.
“It all stays right here in our community,” Benz said.