Linn Thornton has jumped into his role as Santa Claus this week, distributing toys to needy families in the Monett area for Christmas.
Thornton picked up a load of toys gathered by employees at International Dehydrated Foods on Monday and another load from EFCO, a Pella company, employees on Tuesday. Tom Wolfe Memorial Post #4207, Veterans of Foreign Wars, had a toy supply ready for him. Additional individuals have also helped the early efforts with their donations.
"As fast as we can get them, we get them sacked up and they're gone," Thornton said. "We're right on schedule."
Thornton had prepared enough toys to help 100 families by the beginning of this week. He planned to put in about 15 hours a day distributing toys and preparing for his Christmas day community dinner over the next two and a half weeks.
The jump into holiday activity has not gone as smoothly this year. Thornton's wife, Anna, is still convalescing from back and leg problems and hopes to be ready to help for the dinner. Thornton spent part of the beginning of the week covering for a colleague at his job before dedicating all his time to spreading holiday cheer.
Thornton said the need he is seeing this year is a bit different.
"A lot of people don't ask for much, just a little to make Christmas," Thornton said. "Monett is one of the luckiest towns. A lot of other towns are hurting a lot worse. Monett is a place where we can all pull together.
"There are a lot of newcomers to the region. A lot of people are away from their families," Thornton continued. "They're looking for a place to spend time. That's what our dinner provides."
Thornton is excited about the chance to have his annual dinner at the First United Methodist Church this year. Because of the accessibility of the facility, he anticipates more people with limited mobility will be able to attend. Thornton has ordered 300 carry-out containers and is getting drinking cups donated by a Springfield company.
"You don't have to be a king or queen to be a star at our show," Thornton said. "We're all part of a big family. A free Christmas dinner today means a lot. Some people have come for years. Seeing them makes my Christmas."
Thornton's Christmas dinner will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 25. Volunteers to cook, serve and deliver meals are welcome to come that morning.
To donate to help Thornton's Christmas efforts, call 236-0222.