That time of year again - as Casper's Townsquare Media radio stations (My Country 95-5, 107-9 The River, 104.7 KISS-FM, Rock 96.7, K2 Radio, and AM 1400, ESPN Radio) team up to help Casper kids in need, and begin Christmas number 15 of their annual "Stuff The Van" Toy Drive.  Host Donovan Short and members of the Wyoming Food For Thought Project will be live at Walmart in West Casper December 10-12, and Walmart in East Casper December 12-15 - from 7am until 7pm each day of the drive.

"Typically, the need starts out being fairly broad every year", says Short.  "We start the week needing absolutely everything for all age groups - and then as donations start to get sorted and certain holes get filled, you'll hear us start to center in on certain things based on the lists our participating charities give us.  We're working this year with the Casper Boys and Girls Club, Casper Salvation Army, and the Child Development Center Of Natrona County - all of whom will be giving us lists and head counts of the kids they're serving this year right before we kick off.  I can tell you that while we need plenty of toys and clothes for ALL age groups, it's pretty much a given every Christmas that we run a little slow in items for our older kids - our teens and tweens.  We'll be live on all six radio stations throughout the week with the very latest updates as things come in - and if you're shopping on-site where we are, you're always welcome to stop by the Murphy Shed and ask our favorite question, 'what do the kids need'.  We've got volunteers that will head you in the right direction and give you some shopping ideas."

In addition to actual gifts - Stuff The Van takes much needed financial contributions, and once the Christmas toy and clothing needs are met, puts those excess funds to work feeding food-insecure Casper kids.  This year, the funds will be directed to the Weekend Backpack Program, administered through the Natrona County School District, with help from the Wyoming Food For Thought Project, Stuff The Van's organizational partner.

"Due to the extra generosity of the Casper community, we've often been in the fortunate position of having a little more than we need at the end of 'Stuff The Van'," says Short.  "We were looking for ways to reach these at-risk kids beyond just December 25 - and learned a few years ago that hunger is a huge children's issue here in Casper. There's tons of children who honestly don't know where their next meal is coming from. You get those kids away from things like free and reduced-cost breakfast and lunch programs at schools, and they're often going hungry at night, on weekends, on holidays and school breaks.  Part of what organizations like the Wyoming Food For Thought Project and the Weekend Backpack Program are doing is not only raising awareness and helping generate much-needed dollars, but reaching out and identifying these children at school - and discreetly sending them home with easy-to-prepare foods that will keep them going over time periods when they might be vulnerable to hunger, and make sure they can focus on the important stuff, like learning. Being kids, you know?"

Jamie Purcell, from the Wyoming Food For Thought Project says the need in Casper is bigger than you might imagine: "We are currently sustaining a program of 200 bags every weekend but truly, we need to serve over 3,000. We're thinking outside the box now, asking churches and community groups to get involved in an organized manner. Managing the logisitcs with the Natrona County School District, we are looking at ways to grow the program so that all of the kids in need are fed. The extra money raised will be invested right here in Casper, building on the solid program and bringing resources together to help our kids grow."

While the toys, clothes, and funds can be dropped off to Stuff The Van volunteers at Walmart during the week of December 10 - a monetary donation can be dropped at any location of Hilltop National Bank from now through the end of the year, just make sure to tell them it's for "Stuff The Van".