Living in the OC: Jim Carlson loves helping Oceana families

December 4, 2015

Jim and Sheila Carlson

‘Living in the OC’ is sponsored by Springstead Law Offices, with locations in Hart and Fremont, 231-873-4022 (Hart),

By Allison Scarbrough. OCP Editor.

PENTWATER — Retired U.S. Marine Jim Carlson is tough as steel, but he has a heart of gold.

The Oceana County Toys for Tots Coordinator, with his wife Sheila at his side, works year-round to make sure all children in Oceana County have a Merry Christmas.

SpringsteadVertical_091015“It’s helping families,” Jim said that is the most rewarding aspect of his tireless volunteer efforts. His love for Oceana County has made the Vietnam veteran a dedicated warrior for children.

“Jim has a soft heart,” said Toys for Tots volunteer Barb Altland. “When it comes to people, Jim is a very giving individual.”

Jim and Sheila have many helping hands in the form of volunteers. The couple has been compared to Santa and Mrs. Claus, while the volunteers are Santa’s elves. “I enjoy working with everyone and the camaraderie,” he said.

“We’re here to help the families, so no child is forgotten at Christmas,” Jim said. With a tall, intimidating physical appearance, Jim’s kindness and generosity shines through with that twinkle in his eye — just like the jolly ol’ elf himself.

In addition to individual volunteers, the Toys for Tots program gets a boost from local school groups, scout troops, veterans and many other community organizations. The Marine Corps League plays a major role in the program, handling fundraising efforts.

In Oceana County alone, 6,000-8,000 toys are collected annually, Sheila said. The Toys for Tots Foundation provides $3,000 for toys to be purchased at Toys R Us stores, Jim said. About 300-400 Oceana families each year have a much brighter Christmas because of their efforts.

After returning from the war in the late 60s, Jim began his career at Hart Public Schools where he was a

The Toys for Tots float in the Hart Lighted Christmas Parade.

The Toys for Tots float in the Hart Lighted Christmas Parade.

maintenance/grounds worker for 41 years until his retirement. During his time working at the school, Jim developed many friendships with students and served as a role model for many. A former student, Ed Lopez, became a marine and then a Toys for Tots coordinator, like his mentor. Lopez coordinates Toys for Tots in Ottawa, Allegan and VanBuren counties, Jim said. “I guess I kind of inspired him,” Jim said humbly.

“There were some guys who went into the Marine Corps because of me,” he said. “I had them come back and thank me for it.”

Jim, a Hart native, graduated from Hart High School in 1967. Sheila, a native of Weare Township, graduated from Pentwater High School in 1972. The couple has three grown children and one granddaughter who is almost 3.

He became the Toys for Tots coordinator in 2001, although he has been involved in the program for 32 years. The 67-year-old served on the Hart Area Fire Department for 28 years and retired two years ago.

Right now, Jim and his army of volunteers are registering families at the Pentwater VFW Hall. The parents will return to the VFW Hall Dec. 16 to pick up the toys. There are several drop-off locations at businesses throughout Oceana County. Click here for drop-off locations.

Some people who are in need of assistance are often too proud to ask for help, Jim said. Just like Santa Claus, Jim has a way of finding out who those folks are and hand delivers presents to the children. That just goes to show that Jim’s love for Oceana County is a gift that is enjoyed by many.

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