Jail chaplain program collects toys for distribution to inmates' children

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BELOIT - Since the late 1980s, the Rock County Jail Chaplaincy has used an annual toy drive to make the holidays a little brighter for children whose parents are in custody at the Rock County Jail.

This year the group is partnering with Beloit Cares to get the word out about the special holiday event.

Organizers say donations of toys for boys and girls up to age 12 are acceptable, and can be dropped off at the Beloit Life Center, 2170 Murphy Woods Road, until Nov. 30.

According to Chaplaincy Co-Director Jack Johnson, each year the group struggles to receive enough toys for boys. Over the years, Johnson said the toy drive and deliveries have only grown, estimating that in Beloit and Janesville, 400 toys were gifted to children last holiday season.

Area churches in Janesville and Beloit help out, Johnson said, and together he and others are able to make deliveries every year.

After donations are received, Johnson and other chaplaincy volunteers work with the Rock County Sheriff's Office at the jail to allow parents to select toys to be given to their children.

"Everyone is so grateful and really helpful," Johnson said.

Johnson said after a less-than-warm welcome at his first delivery back in 1987, he almost gave up the idea of the toy drive.

"It was my first-ever delivery and I got disheartened," Johnson said. "But no other delivery has been like that since."

He might not dress up as Santa Claus while delivering presents, but that doesn't stop him from spreading holiday cheer.

"It's really wonderful," Johnson said. "It's not the kids' fault that their parent is in jail. It's nice to be able to see their faces light up."

Johnson said reaching out to inmates at the jail helps get some involved in the chaplaincy program.

"It's a way into what we do, and we try to spread the good effect we have on people," Johnson said. "It softens some of these guys and it encourages them, some of whom have a very hard background, to open up with us."

Donations will be accepted at the Beloit Life Center from 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. - noon on Sundays. Scheduled drop off appointments can be made by emailing beloitcares@gmail.com.

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