More than 250 local families will have a brighter holiday season thanks to supporters of the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office Christmas Crusade for Children program who recently purchased more than $24,600 worth of toys and gifts for needy children.

The Christmas Crusade for Children program, which has been around for more than 20 years, will provide at least 687 Ascension Parish children 12 and younger with toys this holiday, said Allison Hudson, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.

That number is expected to increase as last-minute applications for assistance come in, Hudson said.

To be chosen as a Christmas Crusade recipient, applicants must provide the Sheriff’s Office with proof of Ascension Parish residency, a valid Louisiana driver’s license or state identification card, proof of income and copies of each child’s birth certificate, said Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Janet Fontenot.

The shopping spree took place Dec. 3 at the Gonzales Wal-Mart, where a large tractor-trailer waited in the parking lot to store all the purchases until the toy distribution Dec. 12.

Inside the store, nearly 150 volunteers from school clubs, community organizations and the Sheriff’s Office received cards with a child’s first name, age and a suggested list of toys.

The Sheriff’s Office placed a $40 limit on the amount the volunteers could spend per child.

Volunteers then brought their purchases to specially-marked registers to check out where Wal-Mart waived all taxes.

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley told the crowd that while the youngsters enjoy receiving gifts, the night offered a valuable lesson for those young volunteer shoppers giving a hand.

“We want you to also learn how to give stuff,” Wiley said.

Donations from various community organizations continue to allow the Sheriff’s Office to buy these toys, including $870 from G.W. Carver Primary School, $700 from Ascension Credit Union, 120 bikes from the charity Bikes for Tikes and a toy donation from Bizzy Bunch Preschool, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Lake Elementary School’s Beta Club raised $5,000 by selling jambalaya and holding other events, said the school’s Beta chapter sponsor, Morgan Hutchinson.

“The kids are so young,” said Hutchinson. “It’s good to get them out to volunteer and give back to their community.”

Cheyenne Moran, a Lake Elementary School seventh-grader and Beta Club member, shopped Thursday with her cousin, Kobi Mayers, and aunt, Daphne Domingue.

The group was shopping for three family members, all girls, Moran said.

Moran wanted to surprise the older girl with some body wash and spray even though the items were not on her list.

After attending last year’s toy distribution, Moran said she hoped to go again this year.

“It’s usually cool to see how the kids react,” Moran said.

Down another toy aisle crammed with shoppers and stocked high with Barbie dolls, Shawanda Hebert shopped with daughter, Madisyn Hebert, a seventh-grader at St. Amant Middle School.

They were searching for Dora the Explorer toys, baby dolls, board games and a Leap Frog learning toy for 6- and 8-year-old girls.

Madisyn Hebert said she enjoyed the experience of shopping with Christmas Crusade because she liked the idea of toys “going to families that need them.”

But it was harder than expected to shop for strangers, some said.

Friends Sarah Ryland and Kathryn Strain, also seventh-graders at St. Amant Middle, explained it was hard to know which colors their assigned girls preferred or even what size clothes they wore.

“You don’t know what they like,”said Strain.

Ayden Delapasse, 10, went through his suggested list for an 11-year-old girl rather quickly though, selecting arts and crafts projects, canvases and paint.

His brother, Stantyn Delapasse, 7, was having a more difficult time thinking of gift ideas for an 8-year-old girl, especially since one of the items on his Christmas Crusade card was a phone app without actual merchandise to purchase, said the boys’ mother, Kassi Delapasse.

Ayden said the shopping trip made him feel “good because you help people.”

Kassi Delapasse struggled to describe how she felt about the excursion without becoming emotional.

“That’s the word,” Kassi Delapasse finally said. “Fortunate.”

Christmas Crusade toy distribution will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 12 at the Donaldsonville Courthouse and from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Gonzales Courthouse, said Fontenot.

For more information, call Fontenot at (225) 621-8318.