Christmas Toy Charity In Western Michigan Turns To Gift Cards After Fire

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A charity that has been giving away Christmas gifts in the Grand Rapids area for more than 100 years said it will turn to gift cards after a fire damaged a building where more than 5,000 packages were stored.

It's possible the gifts for needy families were not affected by smoke at the DeltaPlex in Walker. But Santa Claus Girls of Kent County said there's not enough time to check each one before the Dec. 9 distribution to 2,500 families.

“It was a question of what can we do within the time constraints to help the kids? So we said gift cards,” Rick Barteling, the group's logistics coordinator, told WOOD-TV.

The fire happened last Friday. It was knocked down but still caused smoke damage.

“It was absolutely unbelievable to think of all of the thousands of children’s gifts that were sitting in this smoky box,” Barteling said.

Santa Claus Girls will examine toys, books and clothes to see what can be used next year.

Members of Park Congregational Church started Santa Claus Girls in 1908 to help children who might not receive a Christmas gift. More than 300 volunteers now make house calls, delivering gifts to approximately 12,000 children.