The first thing Crissy Ludens says when we sit down to chat is, “This story is not about me.” It doesn’t take long to realize that this attitude perfectly sums up her altruistic nature.

For Crissy, selflessness is ingrained in her character. In her role as Public Service Director for The HomeSlice Group, a media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered in Sturgis, she receives a lot of requests for help. Activity ramps up during the holidays, when local and national organizations reach out asking for assistance for needy families and individuals. It soon became apparent to Crissy that a need wasn’t being met in the community, so she took it upon herself to get involved. 

“When I realized that Toys for Tots had disbanded in town, I as a person—and we as a company—saw it was something we could take over.”

Toys for Tots is a program established by the United States Marine Corps Reserve in 1947 to collect and distribute toys to needy children during the Christmas season. It’s funded and supported by the non-profit Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, a charitable organization based in Virginia. Local toy collection campaigns take place in over 800 communities across the United States beginning in October and lasting into December. Participating businesses are given collection boxes and community members are encouraged to donate new, unwrapped toys for distribution to less-fortunate children in need.

HomeSlice Media is the official organizer for the Pennington County Toys for Tots program; as the only sanctioned program in the Black Hills, it fills an important niche in the region. After the toys are collected (this year’s pick-up date is December 8), they are taken to the Central States Fairgrounds’ Fine Arts Building. Once parents register, they are allowed to select a toy for their child—an option that isn’t available in many other communities. Last year, the program helped 3,300 children in western South Dakota get toys for Christmas. Don’t worry if the deadline has passed; donations collected after December 8 are rolled over to the following year.

Leveraging her position at HomeSlice Media, Crissy offers businesses that donate $100 or more to Toys for Tots a free on-air mention. “I’ve got the power of media behind me!” she says earnestly. It’s clear the program, now in its fourth year with HomeSlice, is very dear to her heart, but it’s just one of many volunteer activities she participates in. For this wife and mother, it’s a family affair; that spirit of giving extends to the other members of her household, including husband Adrian (who also works for HomeSlice as Program Director at Real Rock 100.3 The Fox and moonlights as PA announcer for the Rapid City Rush) and their four children, Taylor, Ashley, Victor, and Maddy. The kids range in age from 9 to 23 and all are actively involved in helping others. 

“There are a lot of events the kids help with,” she says. “They get us together as a family and teach the importance of charity and volunteerism.” 

So many events, Crissy had to consult her phone mid-interview to ensure she wasn’t leaving anybody out. She and her family—Adrian included—try to focus on something different every month. Crissy has directed a local production of The Vagina Monologues to raise awareness for WAVI (Working Against Violence, Inc.) and participated in events benefiting the Girl Scouts, Special Olympics of South Dakota, Women of Distinction, Mission 22, Front Porch Coalition, Feeding South Dakota, Salvation Army, and the Rapid City Shrine Club. From the Walk to End Alzheimer’s to the Polar Plunge, Crissy and her family are out there, in every season and all kinds of weather, doing their part to help people in need. She has six radio stations at her disposal to help spread the word, but you don’t need to work for a media company in order to make a difference.

I asked Crissy for suggestions on how the public can get involved, and without hesitation, she said the 211 Helpline Center is an excellent resource. “Call them and ask for volunteer opportunities. They’ve got lists and are happy to share,” she says. Right before I left, she added, “You can also listen to public service announcements on HomeSlice radio stations!”

With a heart as big as Crissy’s, we won’t begrudge her a little self-promotion. She has more than earned it.

words by Mark Petruska
photo by Jesse Brown Nelson