Bikes, skateboards, games and toys covered the lobby of Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay in the days leading up to distribution with the Toys for Kids program, which sends Christmas spirit to nearly 200 families across Door County through the Sturgeon Bay Jaycees. At Bay Ship, what started as office gift-giving became a companywide effort to ensure every needy family and their kids have a gift to open this Christmas.
“It was like six teddy bears on a table and that’s where we started,” said Julie Koch, manager of Contract Services at Bay Ship, remembering the first year of the program back in 1999. “Every year it’s grown from there. It has gotten to be companywide.”
The Toys for Kids program is organized by the Sturgeon Bay Jaycees and modeled after the nationwide Toys for Tots program. Koch said the move to a separate Toys for Kids program was to ensure the impact was felt locally.
“We used to be Toys for Tots but then everything that got collected here went down to Brown County and our kids up here were missing out,” said Koch. “It’s the same program but everything that’s collected here stays here.”
Families in need register with the county social services office and, after all the gifts are collected and wrapped, the Jaycees distribute them to registered families with the help of the Door County Marine Corps League. In 2016, 186 families and their 483 kids from throughout the county received gifts in time for Christmas. The program also sent gifts to Algoma and Kewaunee.
Koch estimates Bay Ship and its partners donate between 500 and 700 toys to the program, ranging from dolls for the youngest kids to DVD players and Bluetooth speakers for teenagers.
Bay Ship is also fortunate to get buy-in from outside their central office.
“Our labor unions also donated directly to the Toys for Kids program this year over and above what individuals do here,” said Koch. The company’s painting vendor has consistently made donations to the program and, this year, a Bay Ship customer with a ship waiting in the dockyard made a donation.
“It’s not just management,” said Koch. “It’s an entire company project.”
“The Jaycees would not be able to accomplish this every year without our local businesses and the amazing community!” wrote the Sturgeon Bay Jaycees on their Facebook page after they distributed the gifts on Dec. 16. “This community is strong especially when we come together!”