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Wildlife Matters by Aaron Bercheid

I was a Santa’s elf ó a highlight of my year

Aaron Berscheid is a district wildlife officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Aaron covers the ìwildî side of Northeast El Paso County, including Black Forest, Falcon, Peyton and Calhan. He also covers some of Elbert County, north of U.S. Highway 24 and south of State Highway 86, including the towns of Elbert, Kiowa, Ramah, Simla, Matheson and a small portion of the Limon area.

First, I want to say I hope you had a Happy Holiday season!Now I want to tell you what made my season special.I often write about wildlife and why they matter, but this time I want to talk about a more important part of the equation: Humans.The holidays are a time to reflect on what is really important and a time for giving. It is not often I get a chance to give back to my community more than just my usual services.†So it was special when, before Christmas, my CPW colleagues and I got to be Santaís elves for some deserving Pikes Peak area families. And I have to tell you it was a highlight of my year.Maybe youíve heard of CPW and other law enforcement agencies buying and delivering toys through such programs as ìShop With A Copî and others. This is not something we take lightly. It means a lot to us, actuallyThis year, we were pretty lucky. CPW officers and staff had the privilege to work with Toys for Tots. No doubt youíve heard of Toys for Tots. But do you know its history? Itís a cool story.†Toys for Tots was founded in 1947 by U.S. Marine Corps reservist Maj. Bill Hendricks and his wife, Diane. She made hand-crafted dolls and asked Bill to donate her dolls to a charitable organization in Los Angeles to be delivered to deserving children. When he couldnít find an agency, she told him, ìStart one!îBill Hendricks followed her orders like a good Marine and husband and seized the opportunity to help even more children by enlisting the help of his entire Marine reserve unit in LA. They collected and distributed 5,000 toys that year.The Marine Corps Commandant saw the success of Hendricksí community engagement and directed all Marine Reserve sites nationwide to implement a Toys For Tots campaign in 1948.The Toys for Tots project received an important boost that year, thanks to Bill Hendricksí civilian job as director of public relations at Warner Brothers Studios. In that role, Hendricks befriended many celebrities and asked them to help. As a personal favor to Bill, Walt Disney designed the first Toys for Tots poster. It included a miniature three-car train that was subsequently adopted as the Toys for Tots logo.It was humbling for me to be a part of that long history of helping the needy. And I was doubly impressed with the generosity of the Pikes Peak region when I entered the local Toys for Tots warehouse and saw it stocked full of donations from our community. The place was stacked with toys, bikes, skateboards and anything else imaginable for kids up to and beyond 16 years of age.†Our role, as partners with Toys for Tots, was to collect toys for families the agency assigned to us. Armed with a biographical sheet for each family, we collected appropriate toys for each child in the family. Then we passed the hat in our Southeast Region headquarters. Our CPW family donated $100 gift cards on top of all the gifts to our families. We wanted our adopted families to be able to buy fixings for a full Christmas dinner.†The most fun was wrapping and delivering the gifts a few days before Christmas. It was so touching to see the faces of our families when they opened the boxes or got a look at their new bikes, skateboards and more.I tell you all this not to brag. I contemplated not writing about this in fear of overshadowing the purpose. However, I think that highlighting the good in the world right now is way more important. And maybe some of you will be encouraged to join Toys for Tots, or some other group doing similar good work, and feel the same joy as me that comes with helping and giving to others.To be a small part of something so large and to make a difference so great really highlights the fact that people in all walks of life are all the same and deserve the joys of the season.My job is to protect and bolster Coloradoís wildlife populations, but more importantly my hope is that I can do more for the communities I work in.†I care for you all and hope that you all have a safe and joyful holiday season!In the coming months, Iíll share more of those stories as I write about wildlife issues in our community: Got a question, problem or column idea, please email me at or call me at 719-227-5231.†I might even answer your question in a future installment of ìWildlife Matters.î

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