Making sure there are toys under the Christmas Tree

Supporters gather to raise Christmas toy funds during Viola's Chili Cookoff at Jody's Bar & Grill. From left to right are Joe Manjoine, owners of Jody's Bar & Grill; Jimmy Hillier; Sheriff C.J. Ryan; Sue Ryan; Viola Werner; Detective John Lindner and Captain Quinn Riess. Photo by Jim Elias

For 14 years, Viola Werner and her friends have been collecting money to buy bicycles and other toys as part of the Salvation Army toy drive. Last year the Viola’s Toyz4Kidz program donated 87 bikes for Muscatine area kids to enjoy.

“I don’t believe little kids should wake up on Christmas morning without toys,” says Werner.

Most recently, supporters of the program gathered at Jody’s Bar & Grill in Downtown Muscatine for Viola’s annual Chili Cookoff fundraiser.   Dozens of Iowa Hawkeye football fans, friends and members of the Muscatine County Sheriff Department stood in line with $20 bills for chili vote tickets, raffle prizes and the opportunity to have fun while raising money for kids at Christmas time.

Muscatine County Sheriff C.J. Ryan, his wife Sue and sheriff’s deputies were there to help. Ryan said he and his team have been involved for a long time. Viola Werner worked for many years as a dispatcher in the sheriff’s department and her husband Whitey served a long time as the chief deputy.

“It’s easy to collaborate with friends and help everybody have a good Christmas,” said Ryan. “And, this gives us in law enforcement the opportunity to have a positive interaction with people.”

Ryan says deputies enjoy being involved to help kids and can do so with a $20 buy-in for “No-Shave November.” Each year the Muscatine County Sheriff’s Department raises money through the department and expects to collect enough for about 40 bikes.

The sheriff’s department also helps by providing a trailer and escort for the bicycles to be delivered to the Two Weeks of Love Hawkeye Hauler collection site at Krieger Auto Group in Muscatine.  Two Weeks of Love includes both a food and toy drive every year so the Salvation Army can better serve those in need in the Muscatine area.

“It takes a small army,” said Jimmy Hillier, who’s been Viola Werner’s right hand with the Toyz4Kidz drive from the beginning.  “I’m proud to be associated with her.”

Hillier suggests small business can help in small, but big ways.

“If every small business would throw a dollar or some change into a box every day from now until the drive ends it would be a big help,” said Hillier.  “A jar of change goes a long way when buying a toy.”

Next up, Toyz4Kidz has an event scheduled at another popular Downtown Muscatine eatery.  On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Boonies On the Avenue will be a bike & toy drop site from 1:00-4:00PM.  Viola says the Muscatine American Legion is also planning a soup supper to raise money for the program.

Through all these efforts, Viola’s Toyz4Kidz hopes to collect over $5,000 to buy bicycles and toys for kids at Christmas.  To arrange for a toy drop off or pick up, or to make a cash donation, please call Viola Werner at 563-554-0967.