Thornton, 75, will continue his holiday odyssey in distributing toys to less fortunate children and families, which he has done since 1978. He has also started preparations for his 26th annual community dinner on Christmas day.
Supporting organizations have already provided assistance for the toy effort. Thornton was pleased with the efforts of Gary and Sue Updike in organizing motorcycle enthusiasts for the ninth annual Toy Run in October. The Jaycees' Toys for Tots effort will help as well as in-house toy collections done annually by employees at EFCO and Jack Henry and Associates.
New and gently used toys are welcome. Thornton said anyone wishing to make a donation of gifts or food for the dinner or money to help cover expenses can call him at his Santa hotline at 236-0222. Families seeking help can also call the number.
"We started getting calls (from people wanting help at Christmas) in July," Thornton said. "I told them we wouldn't take them 'til December. Five families that contacted me earlier have moved. That's why we can't do it until now. You can't cook a meal two weeks ahead."
The sluggish economy has left many families struggling. Companies cutting back hours and rising fuel prices have contributed to the need, Thornton said. In addition, he has heard from a number of new families that moved into the area from other states, looking for work. For them, the holiday has come sooner than their resources have replenished themselves.
"We'll do what we can to help them," Thornton said. "We will be busy. Mrs. Claus will be busy answering the phone."
Thornton's wife, Anna, has a cast on her foot for the next two weeks. Thornton himself lost part of an ear over the year due to frostbite and sunburn, but he says he feels strong and ready for the long days ahead.
Thornton expects to supply gifts for 300 families again this year. Recipients will make arrangements to come to Thornton's home for the gift exchange.
The Christmas day dinner will again be held at the American Legion Home in Monett at 715 E. Broadway. Thornton said he has begun lining up cooks. Additional volunteers are welcome to come on Christmas day and help in serving, delivering meals to the homebound or helping to clear the sidewalks in case of snow.
"We'll have turkeys, hams, fish, duck, goose and a beef that's been donated. We'll feed over a thousand," Thornton said.