Even though it is six months before Christmas, Emily Estes, 12, of Red Oak, has started collecting for her annual toy drive and is knee deep in newspapers.

For the fourth year, Emily is collecting newspapers and aluminum cans from family, friends, fellow students at Ovilla Christian School and members of her church family at First United Methodist Church in Waxahachie. In turn, Emily will recycle the bundles of newspaper and bags of cans sitting in a steadily growing pile in the family garage, putting the money she receives from recycling in her toy drive fund.

“I ask neighbors and family members. I make announcements at church asking people to bring me their newspapers and cans,” Emily said. “Then we go to this place and turn the cans and newspapers into money.”

From the money collected throughout the year, Emily will purchase toys at local retailers.

“Last year I collected the most I ever have,” Emily said, saying she raised $200 simply from the recycling in 2006. Between the money earned from recycling, money donated and toys given to her, Emily donated 200 toys to underprivileged children last Christmas.

“Last year they called her the Queen of Charity at our company Christmas party,” said Emily’s mother, Nancy Estes.

Nancy works as a speech therapist for Therapy 2000 in Dallas, which has developed a close relationship with Emily’s toy drive. All of the toys Emily collects go directly to the company’s collection of toys to give out to clients at Christmas.

Therapy 2000’s mission is to provide home-based therapy and rehabilitation services for children and young adults with disabilities and developmental delays.

“Most of the kids we work with, about 95 percent of them, are using Medicaid,” Nancy said.

Emily said her mother originally inspired her to do something for the underprivileged children receiving therapeutic care from Therapy 2000.

“My mom kept telling me that I needed to be grateful for all that I have,” Emily said, adding that her mother would tell her stories of children who would not receive any toys for Christmas. “I felt bad. I wanted to give them something.”

Emily also felt the gift was more personal by giving through the company. Therapists go through the toys themselves and pick out toys that best fit the interests and personalities of their patients.

“She wanted to give the toys to people she knew,” Nancy said.

Since starting the project, Emily has been in a constant state of soliciting collections of newspaper and cans from friends and family.

“As soon as one toy drive ends, I start collecting for the next year,” Emily said.

The benefits of the project are twofold — along with helping give children a merrier Christmas, Emily is helping save her planet.

“She’s got to grow up with what we leave behind, so I tried to teach her to recycle,” Nancy said.

Emily recently received recognition from Kohl’s Department Stores through the company’s Kids Who Care Scholarship Program. Emily was one of 1,400 kids honored nationwide for helping transform their communities through volunteerism. Through the seventh annual Kohl’s Kids Who Care Scholarship Program, 89 children from Texas received $50 gift cards and certificates of recognition from Kohl’s. The winners also qualify to receive a portion of more than $200,000 in scholarships Kohl’s will award this summer.

“There are so many compassionate kids in our communities,” said Julie Gardner, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Kohl’s. “Kohl’s Kids Who Care was created to reward youth and teens for their selflessness and encourage them to volunteer to help transform their communities.”

Store-level winners announced will compete for 170 regional scholarships worth $1,000 each. Regional winners will then compete for 10 national scholarships worth $5,000 each. In addition, Kohl’s will contribute $1,000 to each National winner’s nonprofit organization of choice. Regional and National winners will be announced this summer.

Emily didn’t enter herself into the program, but was volunteered by her grandmother.

“My grandma likes to do things for me. She saw this and signed me up,” Emily said. “It feels good (to be recognized) — I feel like if more people know, they’ll do it too so kids will get toys for Christmas.”

“It makes me proud. She recognized a need and realizes she has more than she’ll ever need,” Nancy said. “She’s learning to care for others.”

To donate newspapers or aluminum cans to Emily, contact Nancy at (214) 793-8091.

E-mail Mandy at mandy.bourgeois@waxahachiedailylight.com