MIAMI— Patrons of the Stables Casino graciously donate 1,000 toys a year for children at the Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County to help spread the spirit of Christmas.

The toys are distributed to children throughout area Boys & Girls Clubs during its annual Christmas Program. DeMaris Rector, Director of Marketing for Stables Casino, said the casino’s goal every year is to collect at least 1,000 toys. She is unsure when the tradition actually began.

“We contacted the club about this idea and the casino has been doing it for years, years before I even came along,” Rector said. “I’ve been here eight years, and this has been going on for at least a decade.”

Rector said the casino places an advertisement in the paper for patrons to bring in one $10 toy per person and in turn, the casino gives them a $20 free play credit. The casino starts collecting the toys shortly after Thanksgiving.

“Usually, this promotion only lasts a week tops,” Rector said. “Everyone rushes in and takes advantage of it right off the bat. It’s pretty successful. We’ve never not reached our goal.”

Rector said the Seneca Fire Department also stops by to collect toys. Previous years, the casino has received well over 1,000 toys for the club.

“Especially if we’re at 999 toys one morning, we’ll just go until the end of the day so people can still donate,” Rector said. “We’ve collected 1,100-1,200 some years. The Seneca Fire Department comes, too and we let them take a few bags of toys, as well. We spread it out as much as we can.”

Rector said she cannot speak as to why the casino started the toy donation, but she believes every child should look forward to Christmas.

“This toy drive does a lot for the community,” Rector said. “I know that there are a lot of families here that are struggling to get by. Their priorities are mainly food and clothing, so if we can bring just a little more cheer, I think it makes it all worth it.”

She recalled a year she visited the club during their annual Christmas Program.

“Those kids were ecstatic,” Rector said. “They had a Candy Land themed party one year. There were squares on the floor and whenever they stopped on a certain spot, they got a toy. It was a lot of fun and you could see how much joy they had on their faces.”

This year, the club had a Polar Express theme with a train caboose and railroad tracks on the floor. The organization held its Ottawa County Christmas Program on Thursday.

Fairland’s and Commerce’s holiday program was held last week, and all of the children got to celebrate again on Thursday at the Miami location.

“Commerce had their Christmas party last Thursday,” said Jennifer Spence, Unit Director of Commerce Boys & Girls Club. “We have 35 to 45 children at our location. We scheduled our party the same day the schools were having their Polar Express Day. The kids were in their pajamas and Santa Claus came. We also did some crafts and had a hot cocoa station.”

At Commerce, Spence said they distributed about 100 toys. Each child received at least one toy and got to choose which toys they wanted to keep.

“Originally, we thought about wrapping them but we have so many kids, I wanted to make sure they got what they really wanted.”

The mountain of toys was stored at the Miami location, and Spence said there was literally no floor space when they first arrived. The staff categorized the remote control cars, stuffed animals, baby dolls and action figures and hid the toys so as not to ruin the surprise.

“We had a wonderful variety of toys,” Spence said. “We had anything from stuffed animals to art supplies and Hot Wheels. The community really did a great job of giving us lots of things for the kids to choose from.”

Spence said the children are full of energy and enjoy getting to celebrate Christmas at the club with the other youngsters. She described them as one big family.

“We have a full day planned for them, so they’re active and doing activities all day long,” Spence said. “They have so much energy and I don’t know any kids who need a nap or down time. It is tons of fun.”

At the Miami Christmas program, the children got to sit in a train car type booth while watching “The Polar Express.” The staff transformed the snack area into a depot cafe for the kiddos to indulge in hot chocolate and cookies. For those who didn’t want to watch the movie, the children played video games or made crafts.

“We know that there are some kids who aren’t going to get a whole lot for Christmas just because their families can’t,” Spence said. “We want to make sure they have the best Christmas experience we can give them.”

Spence said that area Boys & Girls Club directors received more thank you’s from parents this year than they have ever gotten.

“Our children’s families are always really thankful we offer this program,” Spence said.