The local Kiwanis Club has helped to brighten the season for disadvantaged youth in the community with their annual Kids Toy Project.

Held Dec. 9 at the Cochrane Walmart, Kiwanis president Ron Gosselin says more children than ever participated in the event that continues to grow annually.

Each of the children recommended by Cochrane Family and Community Support Services had their photo taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus, then selected a toy valued at no more than $50 from the store's toy section. Afterward, they were able to choose from a selection of toques, socks, mitts, and teddy bears and received a goodie bag, explains Gosselin.

By the time they completed their shopping, Walmart staff made sure their photo with Santa was available to take home as a keepsake.

Once again, Cochrane General players accompanied the children on their trip to the toy section to help them with their selection.

The project has grown significantly over time. In the first year, 53 kids were assisted. It grew to 97, 123, then 141 last year. 

Now, they have their sights set on assisting 200 youth next year. It's not a matter of having the funds (this year's budget came in just under $8,000) but finding a way to accommodate all the children at the local Walmart.

"Every year that we've had the project we've had a little bit more registration than spots available," he explains, "but I think this year there was a lot more need."

Gosselin says they have one more project left to complete before Christmas. This Saturday, they are providing and delivering 94 bicycles, complete with helmets, to assist the Cochrane Activettes Share Your Christmas campaign.

Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world, one child and one community at a time. Each club decides how they want to do that. In Cochrane, it includes an annual bike safety and inspection event in the spring, and the collection and distribution of bikes. They were also the lead club in assisting Variety in the development of the 'blue' inclusive playground in Centennial Park.

Next summer, the club has already stepped forward to assist with a literacy mini-camp being held at the Cochrane Public Library for elementary-school-age children.

Gosselin calls the Kiwanis the best-kept secret, although it has a history that dates back to January 21, 1915, when it was founded in Detroit, Michigan.

Recently, the Cochrane club was recently presented with its second Kiwanis Western Canada distinction award.

For more information on the Cochrane Kiwanis, go here.