Each year, as the snowflakes fall, there is one community event KRAI owner Frank Hanel anxiously awaits.
It is a December tradition he holds dear — the annual 93.7, 102.3 KRAI and 55 Country Holiday Drive.
“There is something that brings a tear to your eye every couple of hours,” said Hanel of the annual event, which is hosted by his radio station. “Somebody comes in and says, ‘Hey look, this event really helped me out five years ago. Now I am on my feet, here’s five hundred-dollar bills.
“People come up and do that stuff for you and you go, ‘Wow.’”
Hanel expects many of the same heart-warming moments during this year’s Holiday Drive.
The event is entering its 12th year of helping several local organizations raise money, toys and food for the holiday season.
This year’s Holiday Drive will be hosted from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday in front of the west entrance of Centennial Mall.
“Everybody here really gets up on it,” Hanel said. “Everybody here is involved in it at one level or another. But, by the end of two days out standing on the concrete with a microphone, gloves and hat, I just want to go home and spend a week in bed.
“It beats you up pretty good.”
Last year, the Holiday Drive raised $25,431.57 in cash donations for the four organizations it supports — Christmas for Kids, Christmas for Seniors, Advocates-Crisis Support Services and Interfaith Food Bank.
Organizers were also able to donate 7,220 pounds of non-perishable food items to the food bank and more than 2,000 new toys for area children.
All of the money, food and toys donated during the event are directly distributed to the four local organizations, Hanel said.
“One hundred percent of everything that comes in goes out,” he said.
Only new, unwrapped toys and non-perishable food items will be accepted during the drive in addition to cash, other than specifically noted items found on www.krai.com, Hanel said.
“It’s local people helping local people,” he said.
When asked if he thought this year’s drive would raise more than last year’s, Hanel said that is “never the goal anymore.”
“It used to be a big deal, but anymore we don’t really talk about what we did last year because it is irrelevant,” he said. “That is not the goal. The goal is to help, to give.
“If people give what they can, then we have done our job.”
The drive will feature a live 12-hour broadcast from the mall each day with various forms of entertainment including local musicians and choirs, among others. For the two days of the drive, KRAI will play only Christmas music, Hanel said. Youths can also get their photo taken with Santa Claus for free.
If residents would like to make a donation of food, cash or toys, they can simply pull up outside of the mall on either day and let the Holiday Drive volunteers take over, Hanel said.
“All they have to do is pull up and we swarm the car,” he said. “Somebody is handing them a pop and somebody else is collecting the bag out of the back with the toys.”
The event, Hanel contends, has developed a life and legacy of its own.
“I think people really enjoy it — they look forward to it,” he said. “It is kind of the launch of the Christmas season. I think the Parade of Lights is first, then us, and by that time they are really into the Christmas spirit.”
If you would like to volunteer to help with KRAI’s Holiday Drive, call the radio station at 824-6574.
For a full list of recommended donation items for Christmas for Kids, Christmas for Seniors and Advocates-Crisis Support Services, visit www.krai.com.