Justin Hueston, a three-year veteran of the Vernon County Ambulance District and a National Guardsman, of Mapleton, was killed in a Sept. 25 traffic crash; and after his death, the family requested memorial donations be made to the toy drive.
"The ambulance district was very, very important to him. He loved everything about it. Doing things for the toy drive -- anything for children -- was really important to him. He looked forward to the haunted house," which is a fundraiser for the toy drive and to the toy drive itself, so, "We knew immediately this was something we wanted to do in his honor."
Helping people was Justin Hueston's passion, and the Christmas toy drive and giveaway was near and dear to his heart -- especially since he and Katie had two children of their own, Colby, who's now 5; and Paityn, who's 4.
His love of family and the children is why he joined the National Guard, Justin's dad, Mike Hueston said -- to help take care of his family. Even when he was on deployment with the National Guard he'd stay abreast of the goings-on at VCAD, both Katie and Mike Hueston said.
Tina Werner, of VCAD, said Justin Hueston would have been ecstatic about the amount donated in his honor; and district employees present were obviously touched by the gesture. Mike Hueston said that an additional $1,000 has been put into an account to be used in future drives.
Meanwhile, the much-appreciated donation has given this year's drive a much-needed financial boost. "We're at about the halfway point," VCAD Director James McKenzie said. Last year, the toy drive and giveaway served about 600 children; an effort that could cost up to an estimated $12,000. So far, about 200 children have signed up for the program. Sign-up takes place at Community Outreach.
The haunted house raised almost $5,000, in addition to the Hueston's donation, and a few dozen toys already have been donated, mostly in barrels placed outside the VCAD headquarters at 515 E. Walnut and at area stores such as the two Dollar General outlets.
The program serves children through age 12; and toys are needed for boys and girls of all ages, although McKenzie said the greatest need is often for gifts appropriate for children ages 10-12. New, unwrapped toys are welcome, as are monetary donations, which may be brought to VCAD headquarters during business hours.
"The community has always rallied for this," McKenzie said. Every year, for the past 25 years, the community has met the need, no matter the size of the need. "We couldn't be successful without the support of the community," McKenzie added.
The VCAD, in a cooperative effort with the Nevada/Vernon County Chamber of Commerce, also will be hosting Santa this year. He'll be spending time in a little house that will be set up on the Square. Commissioners granted permission to place Santa's Nevada dwelling on the concrete near the William Joel Stone memorial; and Santa plans to be there after the Christmas parade, which begins at 6 p.m., Dec. 8.
"We'll be at the parade, too, and if people want to bring toys or donations for the drive to the parade with them, we'll be glad to take them, so they don't have to make a special trip," McKenzie said.
Santa also plans to be at the house on the Square Dec. 11, 6-8 p.m., Dec. 15, 2-5 p.m., Dec. 19, 6-8 p.m.; and Dec. 21, 4:30-7 p.m. If additional slots in Santa's schedule open up, he could be there at other times as well; additions to his schedule will be announced when available.