THE ISSUE: The Sheriff's Office sponsors a donation program providing Christmas gifts to underprivileged children in the parish.

LOCAL IMPACT: This year was successful. Christmas Crusade Coordinator and APSO Deputy Janet Fontenot said hundreds of bags were handed out to families, each filled with gifts tailored to the children in the homes.

Thousands of local children will have toys under their trees come Christmas morning, thanks to the hard work of volunteers and generous donations from area businesses. For more than 20 years, the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office has been making sure that every family in the parish has a very merry Christmas.

Christmas Crusade Coordinator and APSO Deputy Janet Fontenot said hundreds of bags were handed out to families, each filled with gifts tailored to the children in the homes. She said they begin the application process in October to get ready for the big day. Needy families can fill out the application, which even includes a wish list for the kids. The only requirements to be in the program are to be below the poverty line and live in Ascension Parish.

Fontenot said each child receives $40 worth of gifts, which are personalized based on the child's age and gender, as well as their interests from the wish list. Since the crusade doesn't pay taxes on the toys, every cent is stretched as far as it can go.

Lt. Col. Sam Decoteau heads the Bikes for Tikes program in partnership with the crusade. The U.S. Marine helped collect more than 200 bikes, which were given out to the kids in addition to the bags of toys. He said working with the program for the past six years has been very rewarding, and they're always excited to give the bikes to local children.

The crusade would not be possible without the generous donations of Ascension residents and businesses. Cajun Equipment donated the use of an 18-wheeler to move the toys, Impala donated 25 bikes, and Rubicon also made a donation.

A huge volunteer effort is essential to making sure things run smoothly. The Church of St. Amant helped bag up the toys, prison trustees sorted through the donations, and area high school students also volunteered their time. Ascension residents also helped shop for the items on the wish lists during the huge shopping day in early December.

Fontenot said the families are always appreciative of the help, but it's really all about the kids. Because of the dedication and generosity of the community, we can be sure Santa will stop at every home in the parish this year.

122 families with multiple children were assisted in Donaldsonville, including 53 Head Start children.

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