Toy drive makes spirits bright for kids fighting cancer

Reindeer pranced and tiny tots snuggled up with Santa on his sleigh when the second annual OneForJoe Toy Drive stopped by Andover Cinema Saturday morning.

Carolers sing merrily as Santa’s reindeer greet folks stopping by Andover Cinema for the Dec. 22 OneForJoe Toy Drive to benefit the Miracles of Mitch Foundation. Photo by Sue Austreng

Carolers sing merrily as Santa’s reindeer greet folks stopping by Andover Cinema for the Dec. 22 OneForJoe Toy Drive to benefit the Miracles of Mitch Foundation. Photo by Sue Austreng

The annual Christmas caper benefits the Miracles of Mitch Foundation, about which OneForJoe organizer Joe Johnson of Blaine is passionate.

“You see, this isn’t your standard toy drive; this one is for the families of children battling cancer and the toys will be given to them along with their brothers and sisters,” Johnson said.

This hits especially close to home for Johnson because back in 1992 when he was just a teenager, his older brother died.

And so, Johnson set up the OneForJoe Toy Drive.

Before heading into the movie theater for a showing of “Arthur Christmas,” Shane DeSmet and his two-year-old grandson Walker present Joe Johnson with a giant bag stuffed with toys during the OneForJoe Toy Drive to benefit the Miracles of Mitch Foundation. Photo by Sue Austreng

Before heading into the movie theater for a showing of “Arthur Christmas,” Shane DeSmet and his two-year-old grandson Walker present Joe Johnson with a giant bag stuffed with toys during the OneForJoe Toy Drive to benefit the Miracles of Mitch Foundation. Photo by Sue Austreng

William and Ella Guggisberg of Coon Rapids snuggle up with mom, Allison, on Santa’s lap while a pair of jolly ol’ St. Nicholas’ reindeer pose alongside the sleigh outside Andover Cinema Dec. 22. Photo by Sue Austreng

William and Ella Guggisberg of Coon Rapids snuggle up with mom, Allison, on Santa’s lap while a pair of jolly ol’ St. Nicholas’ reindeer pose alongside the sleigh outside Andover Cinema Dec. 22. Photo by Sue Austreng

Santa sits in his sleigh outside Andover Cinema, a pair of reindeer prancing and nodding beside him, while carolers sing merry tunes and families come bringing gifts of unwrapped new toys to be distributed to families whose children are battling cancer.

When a kid brought a toy to the OneForJoe Toy Drive, he got a free ticket to a special 10 a.m. showing of the movie, “Arthur Christmas.”

Coon Rapids kids William and Ella Guggisberg and their mom, Allison, brought toys.

“Sure, the kids wanted to see Santa and the reindeer, but we really came because we wanted to donate toys. You see, Will’s only five years old and one of his friends has cancer and we wanted to do something to help, to try to make it a happy time,” Allison said.

Many local families shared that desire to make the holiday brighter for the little ones fighting cancer.

Last year more than 1,000 toys were donated within the first 90 minutes of the OneForJoe Toy Drive and before showtime Saturday morning, 500 families had already donated toys.

“And look – they’re still coming,” Johnson said, toys piling up on the tables while more families carried boxes and bags full of toys into the cinema.

For the second year in a row Shane DeSmet, owner of S&D Garage Door in Ramsey, donated a bulging bag stuffed with toys.

“He’s always been a great supporter,” Johnson said as DeSmet presented the sack of toys.

“I just like to see that kids who are suffering can have a little fun,” DeSmet said. “I just want to do something to help make that happen.”

Johnson said that Duall Services of Columbia Heights is also a big supporter of the OneForJoe Toy Drive.

Duall was expected to deliver an entire truck full of toys for the cause this year, Johnson said.

To learn more about the OneForJoe Toy Drive and the Miracles of Mitch Foundation, visit OneForJoe.com/toys and www.MiraclesOfMitch.org.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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