9Who Care Recipient is the queen of Christmas toys

11:14 AM, Jan 3, 2014   |    comments
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DENVER - The holidays may be over, but thousands of kids in Denver are still enjoying new toys and games thanks to a quiet volunteer. 

Since 1956, Gene Koelbel's kingdom has been filled with princesses, castles, exotic animals from afar and Santa.

Gene has spent more than a half century making sure underprivileged kids always have a little something from Santa at the Denver Santa Claus Shop.

"It's fun to talk to the kids after they get a toy and see how happy they are. They have smiles on their faces and hug it and won't let go," Gene said.

"Queen Gene," as she's known, spends every Christmas season with the Denver Santa Claus Shop.

The organization has been giving away toys to underprivileged kids for more than 80 years. Gene has been there for 50 of them.

"When I started, we probably gave toys to 8,000 to 9,000 kids, and now we do 18,000," said Gene.

Each year, warehouses full of donated toys are boxed and sorted, then set up for eligible parents to shop for the perfect gift a week or so before the holiday. 

Those who know her best call Gene the charity's heart and soul.

Gene raises nearly half of the charity's annual budget of $75,000, herself. Although she'd tell you, there's  a whole royal family behind the queen.

"My whole family is involved. My daughter, my two daughter-in-laws, grandchildren. They have all worked at Santa Claus Shops, and they've loved it. It's been a family project," said Gene.

The Santa Claus Shop is not Gene's only charitable activity, she also volunteers for the Denver Zoo and the Sewall Child Development Center. 

The Denver Santa Claus Shop accepts new and gently loved toys as well as monetary donations year round.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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