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Article updated: 4/12/2013 12:15 PM

Geneva woman honored for toy drive

By Harry Hitzeman

A Geneva woman has been recognized as one of 10 extraordinary volunteers for Make A Difference Day for her efforts to coordinate a toy drive that helped 600 poor children in four schools in Kentucky.

Wen Marcec, 62, who also is a special education preschool aide for Geneva Unit District 304, will travel to Washington later this month for a ceremony that includes actor Tony Danza.

"We are overwhelmed and very excited about this honor," Marcec said Thursday. "We try and involve the whole community. These toys go to kids who have absolutely nothing. It's been a really rewarding project for us."

She also will receive a $10,000 grant, which she says will help pay for Camp H.O.P.E., an annual summer camp for children from the Appalachian Mountain region through Marcec's charity A Lasting World.

The toy drive, dubbed S.A.N.T.A. for Send A New Toy to Appalachia, garnered more than 2,100 new toys through the efforts of some 125 volunteer students from Geneva, Aurora and Yorkville.

The toys were gathered during the annual Make A Difference Day on Oct. 27, and Marcec and her husband, Jerry, rented a truck and drove the load to Estill County in Kentucky. The project began in 2003.

From there, parents at elementary schools are able to view the toys. The parents each elect a few toys for their children and the gifts come from "Santa."

Marcec said the only restriction is that the new, donated toys not use batteries or require electricity. Many of the households where the toys end up don't have spare income for batteries.

"I think we had 200 Barbie dolls (last October)," Marcec recalled. "The community is very, very generous."

Marcec said linking her project to Make A Difference Day, the largest single day volunteer effort in the country that involves an estimated 3 million volunteers, certainly helps build interest. Marcec begins working with schools when classes resume each August.

"Because it's Make A Difference Day, people know what that means. I haven't had much trouble getting people excited about it," she said.

Marcec said the $10,000 grant will help underwrite the cost for the July 2014 Camp H.O.P.E., an all-expenses-paid camp for a dozen kids.

"Our organization is very small. We have some really dedicated members. You can't keep going to the well before running it dry. This (grant) is just an amazing help to us. It guarantees a camp for 2014," she said. "The main thing is to serve kids in Kentucky. It's more than a passion. It's kind of a ministry. That is where my heart is."

Marcec and the nine individual winners will be profiled in the April 19-21 edition of USA Weekend, an insert in the Daily Herald and other newspapers.

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