Carolee Sellers and Aramark give stuffed animals to school children

MACOMB — A tradition of generosity and care for elementary school children is nearing its 15th year.
On Monday, staff, volunteers and Macomb Mayor Mike Inman stopped by MacArthur Early Childhood Center to deliver some holiday hugs to the children in the form of cuddly stuffed animals. Monday’s delivery was the second in a week: the first took place at Lincoln School last week.
Children eagerly reached for the toys as Carolee Sellers, Tana Swanson, and Joyce Phillips and Inman arrived at each classroom, wearing Santa hats and bearing red velveteen sacks full of the furry friends. Angie Dodds, an Aramark employee who dresses in a different costume every year, came dressed as toy soldier this year.
The long-standing tradition began when lunchroom staff at Lincoln School decided to give away their older children’s favorite toys.
Sellers is a retired Aramark employee who spearheaded the program. “One lady came in and said, ‘My kids are growing up. I’ve got a lot of stuffed animals in my house. What can I do with them?’… And another lady said, ‘Let’s give them away at Lincoln School at Christmas time.’ And we all thought that was a marvelous idea,” she said.
The first two years proved challenging. The first year, they didn’t have enough toys for all the district’s children, and had to do a drawing. Some of the children left disappointed. The next year they collected enough toys, but some children quibbled over them when given the option to choose their own off a table. Now, Sellers and the others visit each classroom and pass them out, telling them they are on Santa’s good list.
Aramark, the district’s food service provider, has participated in the program since its beginning. Many other organizations and individuals have also become involved over the years through sponsorship, stuffed animal donations and providing storage. Among these are Sellers’ husband, Stan, and their daughter; retired teacher Karen Ingledue; businesses; and recently a Girl Scout Troop.
New and gently used stuffed animals are collected throughout the year and stored in a local storage unit. Sellers frequently collects animals herself. “We go to garage sales all year,” she said.
Often, community, church and high school groups will hold drives to collect toys for the project. Some of the stuffed animals are given by people from Ottawa, the Quad Cities and Hoffman Estates, she said.
Sellers initially stored the stuffed animals herself. “The first year or two, Stan and I took them all home, and we stored them in our garage. Eventually we had to leave the car out in the driveway,” she laughed. “That was not a very good thing.” Aramark and Ingledue eventually split the cost of storing the items so the Sellers could free up their own space.
At times, the generosity means they have more than enough for the district’s children and are able to give some away. In 2012, Sellers sent toys to children affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The next year, she was able to send a toy to each elementary school child affected by the Washington, Ill. tornado, according to a previous report by the Voice.
Sellers expressed her appreciation for all the help the program has had from the community. “Macomb is a marvelous, marvelous town,” she said. “They are a big, big help.”

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