Kane County History: After 70 Years, Batavia Elves Are Still Making Children's Christmas Brighter

Kane County History: After 70 Years, Batavia Elves Are Still Making Children’s Christmas Brighter

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Batavia Park District Marketing and Communications Coordinator Kristen Zambo.

A movement that today helps distribute toys to hundreds of children in need so they may have happier holidays began 70 years ago in one of Santa’s local workshops.

The original workshop was “secreted” inside the Batavia fire station. And in 1951, firefighters were repairing well-used but no longer played with toys, bicycles, baby doll carriages, dollhouses and other items to provide children in need with wonderful presents from Santa.

The endeavor began in 1951 as a toy repair program, Batavia Depot Museum records show, when members of the Rotary club began the custom of providing toys to needy children at the holidays.

Then-Fire Chief Frederick C. “Bud” Richter, fireman and chief mechanic Fred Womack, fireman William Thrun and other firefighters worked on those toys so they would look and function like new. Members of the Girl Scouts dressed the dolls in new, hand-stitched clothing, and a local cleaning company initially cleaned bushels of stuffed toys.

The successful program operated through 1974, the year Richter retired. Interest then waned in the program, and it discontinued in 1975, according to the museum’s archives.

In 1984, a citizen task force was created to work specifically on family entertainment; social services; Fox River resources; cultural, church and sports activities; local transportation; and community heritage. This task force was called the Batavia Action Committee on Community, Environmental and Social Services. One of its initial projects was food distribution.

Fast forward to 1987, and ACCESS took over toy distribution, according to museum records. And this renewed endeavor later was named the Batavia ACCESS Toy Drive.

One longtime Batavia resident, Kewanee-born Mildred Bailey, had a special place in her heart for the children and families served by the toy drive.

Bailey, one of 10 children, told The Windmill Herald in 1994 that seeing mothers visit the ACCESS Toy Drive reminded her of herself and her mother because Bailey’s father had died at any early age. Bailey, who served as co-chair of the annual holiday toy drive for 28 years, died July 13, 2010. She was 83.

The toy drive no longer uses a fire station as Santa’s workshop and Girl Scout troop members no longer dress dolls in hand-stitched clothing. But the need for donated toys in Batavia continues today.

The past couple of years have been challenging for so many families. This year, volunteers are hoping to secure toys for every one of the approximately 600 children on their list.

Toys can be taken through Dec. 8 to Batavia High School and dropped off at the Main Street desk, or students may take them to Room C112, according to Batavia ACCESS Toy Drive.

You can follow Batavia ACCESS Toys on Twitter at @BtownACCESSToys.

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