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Ruben Castaneda stands for a portrait Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, in front of the four large bins of toys he has raised to give away to kids for Christmas at Ruben’s Metals. Castaneda is continuing a tradition that his father, also Ruben, started. Nadav Soroker/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Those who’ve been around Cheyenne for a while may remember a man in the past who, every year around Christmas time, sold blankets near the now-closed Cruisin’ Thru burger spot on Central Avenue.

That man, Ruben Castaneda Sr., would then use the money from the sales to buy toys, and on Christmas Eve, he would dress up as Santa Claus and give everything he bought away to local kids.

A few years ago, Castaneda retired and eventually moved away from Cheyenne. After a few holiday seasons without the toy drive, his son, Ruben Castaneda Jr., who runs a scrap metal processing company, decided to bring it back this year – with a few changes.

“I don’t have time to sell blankets to fund it, so with the customers we service the scrap metal bands for, we asked them for donations and help,” Castaneda said.

The community quickly responded to Castaneda’s call, providing monetary and toy donations, and with its support, the Papa Claus Toy Giveaway will return to Cheyenne today from 2-6 p.m. at Ruben’s Metals, 2524 E. Seventh St.

This time, the younger Castaneda will be dressed as Santa. During the giveaway, he and his wife, who helped organize the event, try to get a feel for what toy fits best with each kid.

“The response of the kids is big, to put a smile on the kids’ face, to feel like you hit a home run with it,” he said. “These kids are our future.”

Even before today’s giveaway, the project has been making an impact, as Castaneda’s initiative previously donated to Needs Inc., providing free entrances to the facility for 350 people and stocking the agency’s shelves with dozens of socks, mittens and beanies.

Castaneda said his father told him he’s very proud that the Papa Claus tradition is continuing.

“This would’ve never crossed my mind, or even for my dad to trust me with the business in the manner that he has,” Castaneda said.

This year, Cheyenne’s East High received a donation as part of the drive, and Castaneda said he has his eye on a few other donors that would allow him to expand into other schools.

Castaneda hopes to turn Papa Claus into a nonprofit next year, allowing the operation to more easily secure donations.

“After six weeks of me doing this, I want to thank the people that do take the effort and the time and work with our community, because those people work very hard,” he said.

With four large boxes brimming with toys, Castaneda was excited to see his dad’s legacy continue this Christmas Eve.

“It’s just crazy what it’s turned into,” he said. “It’s all about the businesses giving back to the community, because without the community, we don’t exist, either. I am very honored and thankful that these businesses put trust in me to do this.”

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyoming

news.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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