COMMERCE — When lifelong Ottawa County resident Jerry Coach began his Santa Claus Program, which provides toys to children in the area who may not receive presents for Christmas, he had no idea how big the project would become…or that it would still be going 40 years later.

“I can’t believe it,” Coach said. “It just seems like yesterday.”

Coach launched the program at the tender age of 7 when he discovered there were children in his community that didn’t always receive Christmas presents.

He estimates he has collected more than 50,000 toys in the program’s many years delivering to the area.

Now in its 40th year, the program collects donations of toys and money in order to provide Christmas presents to needy area children and covers Ottawa County, Cherokee County, Kansas, and Newton and Jasper counties in Missouri.

There will be a drop box for donated toys in the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office across from the courthouse in Miami, according to Coach, and he will distribute the toys on Christmas Eve this year.

In order to easily determine what age group each toy is appropriate for, donated toys should be unwrapped.

The program is for children up to 16-years-old.

In addition to collecting and distributing the toys, Coach is planning a Santa and pizza party at the Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County on Dec. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Donations for the toy drive can also be sent to P.O. Box 66, Commerce, OK 74339.

The deadline is Dec. 20. Call 918-533-5166 to donate new toys to the drive or to put someone on the toy list.