Washington Secret Santa collects more toys from Tow Trucks for Tots

By WEEK Reporter

December 7, 2013 Updated Dec 7, 2013 at 9:58 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- What started as a small idea turned into an international effort to spread the joy of the holiday season to Washington tornado survivors. Saturday the Washington Secret Santa group collected even more toys from tow trucks traveling from Peoria and the Chicagoland area.

"Today was a mini parade. We had a two-truck caravan down here. About half way through we collected four more trucks, and we came down here as a six person mini parade," said Tow truck operator Jim Bresnaham.

They met the Washington Secret Santa group at the P.J. Hoerr in Peoria. One ten foot trailer brought more than 700 donated toys.

The group has received support from all over.

"Florida, Georgia, California, Alabama... the whole entire east coast has rallied huge for us. Canada has jumped on board and started raising money for us," said Washington Secret Santa co-creator Lindsay Rodriguez. "Never in my life did we think we'd ever get a response like this."

"We ran out of space quickly," said Beth Hinken, the other co-creator. "P.J. Hoerr is one of many locations we tried to store all of it. Lindsay's basement was packed full."

Families who are interested can register online until Tuesday.

"You can register on WashingtonSecretSanta.com, and we're asking for your kid's name, age, sizes and what their Christmas wish is," said Rodriguez.

The group will then assign volunteers to each family. Rodriguez and Hinken have partnered with Target. Target will open their stores early for those volunteers to shop for the items on the wish list on December 14.

The group expects to have $50,000 worth of money to shop with. Any extra money will be given to families in need of extra help.

Families will receive their gifts on December 15.

"As a mom, I know how important Christmas is for those kids," said Rodriguez. "If I couldn't give Christmas to my kids.. I would be heart broken. These families are going through so much, trying to get homes, trying to get cars.. Christmas is probably the last thing on their minds right now, and so we're hoping to make life a little easier for them."