Rob McMillan went through a very large, very steep learning curve. And while he had moments of doubt, his overall experience with expanding his Secret Santa: Toys for Tots campaign was an excellent one — something he hopes to improve on next year.
When the local Kiwanis Club dissolved, their annual toy collection for families and children in need threatened to fall by the wayside. McMillan, who started a smaller toy drive through his Canoe Cove Restaurant last winter, decided he would be the one to pick up the event, add it to his own and make them both grow. Calling it Secret Santa: Toys for Tots, he immediately hit the streets looking for support from the business community and from regular folks.
The program — his own or the Kiwanis Club campaign — was not something he wanted to see simply end.
Nor did the community, based on the response McMillan received. In the days leading up to the official distribution of presents to families in need, McMillan’s restaurant was filled with toys, food and gifts — all wrapped neatly by community volunteers and corporate supporters.
“The program has evolved a bit,” said McMillan in an understatement.
The donations continue to come in. On Dec. 20, Wendy Everson of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, donated toys and $345 to McMillan’s campaign — the proceeds out of a seasonal mixer for chamber members. Everson said the chamber does so much in the community and this was one of their ways of giving something back.
“We are part of the Peninsula,” she said.
Toy distribution occurred in Sidney’s Iroquois Park last week and McMillan said it went well, although he learned a lot and plans to make changes next year to ensure people’s privacy and comfort level. Early on in the day, McMillan said he found that he knew a lot of the people coming in for the gifts.
“That was a hard thing for me,” he admitted. “I had to leave for a few hours and let other volunteers take over, just so that I and the people there had a level of privacy.
“I knew quite a few people and some are even my customers.”
On the positive side, he did see families really enjoy the fact that they’ll be able to have presents under the tree this Christmas.
Even through the official distribution of toys has ended, McMillan said that’s not the end of the gift-giving. He’s not leaving a surplus of toys in a warehouse, waiting for next year. Thanks to his partnerships in the community through this campaign, he said he’s giving any remaining toys to the Lions Club. They will, he said, give them out as birthday gifts to children who really need them.
“We’re unwrapping now,” he said, “so we can see what we have and so the Lions can give them out.”
In this way, he said children who deserve the toys will still be able to get them.
Any extra donations of cash he has left, he continued, will be put away as seed money for next year. And that campaign, he said, will be even bigger as he draws on the lessons he learned this time around. With this knowledge, McMillan plans to start earlier, hit up businesses before they finalize their annual budgets and draw upon all of the community contacts he has made.
“It will be even more successful next year,” he said.