By MICHELLE MERLIN
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Each year with clear skies, area children excitedly rush to greet Santa Claus as he flies by helicopter to Garfield Township’s Great Wolf Lodge.
The moment is part of an annual Toy for Tots kickoff event aimed at raising awareness about area children who could go without Christmas presents.
The Northwest Michigan Toys for Tots collects toys and donations for toys every year and distributes those gifts to agencies to give to needy families.
“It’s a relief for the family because they want their kids to have a Christmas just like everyone else, and they have no idea how they’re going to do it,” said Mike Kent, who serves on the Toys for Tots committee.
Last year the group distributed more than 25,000 toys to more than 7,400 children in the Grand Traverse five-county area.
This year’s kickoff event will be held at the Great Wolf Lodge on Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. The event is free, but those who donate items will be eligible for prizes. There also will be children’s activities and songs from the Traverse City Christian School choir.