FITCHBURG, Wis. — More than 300 kids will get presents this holiday season thanks to dozens of donors, and the hard work of one Wisconsin woman.
Every year, WPS Health Solutions holds a toy drive for Henderson Elementary School on Madison’s north side. In 2019, they tagged trees throughout the building that people could choose, telling them what to donate and for whom.
This year though, nobody is in the WPS building. Nobody is in Henderson Elementary either. WPS planned to give out gift cards to the needy families instead.
“And I said ‘absolutely not’,” recounted WPS Director of Events and Strategic Partnerships Megan Willauer. “This means the world. Christmas is my favorite time of year.”
She decided to volunteer her time to organize the gift drive on her own this year.
“I said, if I handle all the logistics, I figured it out, you just tell me what gifts these children want,” Willauer said. “I will make sure they have these gifts under the tree at Christmas.”
Willauer got in touch with school leaders. They got most students to choose two gifts they wanted for the holidays. Siblings of students were eligible for gifts too, so they were buying for all ages; babies to 18-year-olds.
That left Willauer to put it all together.
“I created an Amazon wishlist of over 750 items,” she said.
Her basement and living room are packed full of gifts. There are so many of them, she can’t even get a Christmas tree yet. There’s not enough room.
Every day, boxes would show up at her front door.
“We just moved into this house, and I'm a little bit worried that my neighbors think I'm the crazy lady who spends a little too much time on Amazon,” Willauer laughed.
She and her husband decided to take all the money they’d usually spend on gifts for one another, and put it toward the gift drive. She asked her parents to do the same.
Willauer has now become a temporary expert of sorts in trendy toys. That'll happen when you're dealing with hundreds of them every day.
“I’m in love with this thing,” Willauer said as she pulled a LOL Carpool Coupe set out of a box of toys. “It’s so cute!”
"Little girls asked for mermaid tails. How beautiful is that thing?!" she said as she touched a velvety mermaid tail. "I wanna lay in that thing!"
All 750 gifts on the Amazon wishlist ended up bought.
Many more families signed up for the program this year. That’s mostly because of the pandemic: so many families have had their financial situation change over the last nine months.
“We accommodated 250 gifts last year. It was 750 gifts this year,” Willauer said. “And it's all need-based. So it's three times the amount of people who are in need.”
That need was exemplified in what some children asked for. “It broke my heart when I saw that some of these children requested winter coats, and hats, and gloves, and boots.”
Willauer said in this strange year, the hours upon hours she spent on the project have all been worth it.
“It just warms my heart that I’ve had a little part in making some of these children’s holidays a little bit brighter,” she said.
“It has been a crazy undertaking, and I’ve loved every single minute of it.”
The gifts will be distributed to the families on Wednesday.
After the toys are out of her house, Willauer plans to finally get a Christmas tree.