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HIGHLAND LAKES HELPERS: Burnet County Santa’s Helpers

Vicinta Stafford and Cayley Willimon of Burnet County Santa's Helpers

Vicinta Stafford (left) and Cayley Willimon in front of the Burnet County Courthouse in Burnet with some of the toys they’ve collected for the 2021 Burnet County Santa’s Helpers toy drive. Staff photo by Brigid Cooley

After 19 years of service, one of Santa’s satellite locations almost had to close up shop last year. Two friends in the Burnet County Clerk’s office — Vicinta Stafford and Cayley Willimon — looked to their inner elves to help save and grow Burnet County Santa’s Helpers, one of three groups that distributes toys collected at The Picayune Magazine and KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune Toy Drive

Santa’s Helpers has made a comeback with a new year-round program providing clothes and hygiene products to students in the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District. 

“Last year, Cayley and I saw a Facebook post asking if anyone wanted to take over the program,” Stafford said. “The two women who had been running it were retiring, and they were looking for someone else to take it on.” 

Santa’s Helpers shifted from the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office to the county clerk’s office where Stafford works. Willimon previously worked there but has since taken a job as the advocate supervisor for CASA for the Highland Lakes Area. Together, they formed a five-member board and established Santa’s Helpers as an official nonprofit. 

“We just wanted to help out,” Willimon said. “I don’t know any other explanation. We talked about it and decided to take it on. We had no idea how large a project it was.” 

The duo faced dual obstacles: The year they took it over and the month they took it over. Picking up in October put them behind schedule in a year already made difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we all know, North Pole elves have 12 months to prepare for Christmas.

“We had no place to put any toys,” Willimon said. “I was moving into a new house and didn’t have much in it, so we just used my almost-empty house.” 

As they tackled logistics, things got a bit more complicated when someone in the courthouse contracted COVID-19. Everyone was sent home to quarantine, right in the middle of peak toy drive time. 

“We didn’t have any volunteers at the time; it was just the two of us,” Willimon said. “Fortunately, pickup time came the day after we got out of quarantine. It was a scramble, to say the least.” 

This year, the operation is running more smoothly. Julie Torrez of Marble Falls and Colleen Davis and April McFarlen, both of Burnet, have joined the team as members of the nonprofit’s newly formed board of directors. Next step for the 2021 drive is to recruit even more assistance. 

“We are looking for volunteers to help with distribution and sorting days,” Stafford said. “We are collecting toys in boxes around town and at the clerk’s office in the courthouse. And, we are part of the KBEY toy drive.” 

The Picayune Magazine and KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune Toy Drive is 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8.

The nonprofit is expanding its outreach and services this year. Board members plan to set up a booth at holiday markets in Marble Falls and Burnet to collect donations and recruit volunteers.

“We are going to give away hot chocolate and popcorn, and we will have a box for people to drop off toys,” Stafford said. 

Just like their peers at the North Pole, the Burnet County elves have been working all year on a new project that developed after last year’s toy distribution day. 

“Last year, we really saw the need for clothing,” Willimon said. “This summer, before school started, we went to the local schools and met up with teachers. Teachers know when a child is coming to school in the same clothes every day.” 

They use monetary donations to buy clothes and hygiene products based on teacher recommendations. 

“A teacher can request toiletries, shoes, clothes, jackets, whatever the kids need,” Stafford said. “It’s totally anonymous. We don’t know who the kids are. We are told what they need, and we go buy it.” 

The group also raises money year-round. In October, they hosted a movie in the park and plan other fundraising events after the first of the year. 

“We are not affiliated with the county,” Stafford explained. “We are a freestanding nonprofit. We don’t receive any county funds; it’s all donations.” 

Distribution day for toys is Dec. 18 at the Burnet County AgriLife building. For more information on where to get applications or how to volunteer, visit the Santa’s Helpers Facebook page.