Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas — no matter the name, everyone knows the story of the guy in the big red suit, whose sleigh brings gifts to all the good boys and girls every Christmas Eve.
In Buchanan, Santa has blonde hair, forgoes the suit for a nice sweater and drives a Chevy.
Mickey Frost wears many hats throughout the year: daughter, mom and grandma to just name a few. But every November, she dusts off her Santa hat to get ready for the annual Wesner Automotive Toys for Tots toy drive.
Thirty-five years ago, Mickey’s father, Gene Wesner, started collecting toys in his dealership’s showroom to donate to Redbud Area Ministries and give Christmas to children in the Buchanan community — many of whom otherwise would not have one. Year after year, the program got bigger, but that initial desire to help local families would never waiver. Mickey grew up working alongside her father and has always played a big role in the toy drive, but three years ago, the tradition was officially passed down to her.
“Being the person dad is, he is still very much involved, but I am proud I was able to pick up where he left off and carry on the tradition of the toy drive,” Mickey says. “Before, the toy drive was strictly from November to December. I now shop all year long looking for deals because I knew we could do more.”
The toy drive starts in November with the hanging of the Toys for Tots banner in the showroom window and ends when all the donations are packed up and dropped off to RAM, usually the Friday before Christmas. Mickey, however, doesn’t let that timeline stop her.
On any given day throughout the year, Mickey can be found strolling through the toy aisles in her favorite store. She has become quite good at finding a deal and using coupons and discounts to benefit the drive, especially for items they get fewer donations of every year.
“I will walk through the toy aisles at stores to gauge what toys are popular with each age group. I will look for things that are on sale and I know will benefit the drive,” Mickey says. “The toy drive helps children who range in age from infants all the way to 16, so I will also look for deals on things like deodorant sets, disposable razors and pajama bottoms. It’s not just toys anymore.”
Mickey’s passion, much like her father’s, is her community. She was born and raised in Buchanan; she raised her children in Buchanan. The drive is and will always be family-orientated, she says. Mickey sees it as a way to give back to people who have supported Wesner Automotive over the years, to help friends and family in need. She takes pride in knowing where the items that are collected are going.
“Donating [to the toy drive] has become a tradition with many families. There are people we see come in year after year,” Mickey says. “It’s so fulfilling to hear stories of how people’s lives are touched by [the drive], too. I’ll have people come up to me and tell me that they donate because they were once a recipient and want to bless others like they were, or I will have people who donate toys in memory of loved ones year after year.”
One story that brings tears to Mickey’s eyes still to this day involves a man named Bill Thomson.
“One day a man walked into the dealership, came up to the counter,” she recalls. “It was a man that I did not know at all. He wasn’t a customer. He had just heard about the toy drive and wanted to make a donation. He took out his checkbook and wrote me a check. I looked down at the check I was holding, and I had to ask him, ‘Are you sure?’ It was a $500 check.”
Little did Mickey know that wouldn’t be the last time she saw Bill. It was two weeks later at the very end of the toy drive in 2012 that Bill once again came into the dealership.
“It was a Friday evening, and I am ready to go home to be with my family and just as I was about to leave, in walks [Bill] again,” Mickey says. “I was almost out the door, and I was surprised to see him. I said, ‘Bill! How are you?’”
Bill once again wanted to talk to Mickey about the toy drive. He wanted to get more involved and talked about having ways to help. He once again said he wanted to make a donation and opened up his checkbook and handed Mickey another $500 check.
“I just looked at him and said, ‘Bill, you already gave me a check this year,’” Mickey says, recalling the memory. “Bill said, ‘I know, but I really want to give you this one, too.’ It’s these stories that stick with you year after year, and it reminds you how important this really is.”
Wesner Automotive will kick off this year’s toy drive in November and will be collecting unwrapped toys, gift cards and monetary donations. They will also take donations of wrapping paper, scotch tape and batteries. Donations can be dropped off at the dealership during normal business hours. Wesner Automotive is located at 201 Red Bud Trail S., Buchanan. χ