The Growth of Giving: How Nate Jefferson Turned One Toy Bin into 40 within Three Years

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When Nate Jefferson, City Electric Supply (CES) regional manager for the South Texas area, decided to put a toy drive bin in his branches, he had no idea how quickly it would spread. Now in their third year, 40 CES branches are participating — about 150 CES team members — across Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, and there’s no sign of that spark going out.

Planting the seeds

Jefferson’s passion for serving his community is easy to see at any time of year, but the impact is multiplied during the holiday season through his career with CES.

“We knew we had a lot of team members and customers who were very giving, so we decided to try a toy drive. We thought we might fill one bin with about 100 toys, but the participation from the community was more than we could have expected,” Jefferson said.

For Jefferson, it’s about community involvement and helping those in need — but a little healthy competition between branches doesn’t hurt, either.

“It’s an opportunity for each of us to give back to the communities that give so much to us,” said Jefferson. “And it’s always fun to see a little banter between branches as they make it a competition to see who can get the most toys,” he added with a laugh.

Growing and localizing

Jefferson attributes a lot of the toy drive’s growth to his branch team members and their initiative.

“They already do so much hard work, and then on top of that, they really took this toy drive and ran with it. I’m very thankful for the initiative they’ve shown,” said Jefferson.

During the first two years of involvement, the CES South Texas region assisted three organizations. In the third year alone, that number has grown to 11 organizations, allowing each branch to localize their impact.

“The idea to help more local charities actually came from the branch teams. Each branch felt passionate about investing in the communities that they live in and being a resource to their neighbors in need,” Jefferson noted.

Three of the organizations that CES helped with for the first time this year took the time to reflect on what it means to have this localized support from CES and how it adds up to a much larger community shift.

Galveston Police Department

Galveston Police Department (GPD) began their Blue Santa toy drive in 1994, helping 12 families in need. This year, they helped 512 families receive holiday assistance, equating to 1,310 children. They believe that without the support of local businesses and citizens, this effort would not be as successful as it is.

“Our biggest deal is making sure every child in Galveston has the opportunity to smile on Christmas morning,” said Sgt. Jovan Harris, GPD Special Operations, CPA Liaison, and Director of Blue Santa. “There’s nothing like the light of a kid who sees you coming down the sidewalk with a new bike and then realizes it’s theirs.”

Houston Fire Department

Houston Fire Department (HFD) has been organizing their Operation: Stocking Stuffer toy drive for over 30 years, and it has steadily grown since. Partnering with over 100 local businesses and global companies, HFD provides toys and gifts to over 20,000 children each year, making it one of the largest community outreach programs of its kind.

“The community support is indescribable — the fact that we can go into local businesses, let them know what we’re doing, and every single time they say, ‘Absolutely, bring us whatever you need.’ These businesses start calling others and getting them involved; the passion for giving back is contagious and spreads throughout the community,” said HFD Public Information Officer and Firefighter Martee Black.

Child Advocates San Antonio

Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA) has held their annual Holiday Drive for many years, bringing in thousands of gifts for youth in the foster system. The consistency that CASA provides for youth who have been removed from their homes shines through this gift drive, ensuring that while big decisions are being made about their physical environment, things like Christmas gifts aren’t missed.

“Having businesses who can be touchpoints for our cause is a win for the community, and the support is more than just gifts coming through the building,” said Marketing and Communications Manager Britney Fines. “The important part is that kids get the simple joy of receiving a gift from someone, which can be overlooked in busy situations. We can provide the happiness of the season, and that’s what’s most important to us.”

Building community through toys

The relationships the toy drive has brought to CES South Texas branches are lasting ones. Jefferson has met families that are customers and successful business owners, and they share the achievement together.

“It goes to show that what we do and the relationships that we have with our customers extend way beyond a simple transaction at the counter,” noted Jefferson.

By the end of this year’s toy drive, the donation count was astounding. Local charities collected approximately 300 toys from Austin branches, 350 toys from San Antonio branches, and 635 toys from Houston branches — plus a $1,000 donation to Make-A-Wish®!

When asked where the toy drive will go from here, Jefferson has high hopes for the future. He expects the rapid growth he’s seen in three years to continue, as well as localization efforts. 

Advice for his team members

Jefferson has learned a lot since he first had the idea for the CES South Texas toy drive, especially as the reach has grown beyond his dreams.

“To others who want to get involved and do something big for their community, I say: progress over perfection. It won’t be perfect, but you have to start somewhere. If your heart’s in the right spot, the goodness will always show, and it will only get better,” said Jefferson. “Looking at where we are now, all the challenges we experienced were more than worth it. Ask for help, and just jump into it.”

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