Sixteen years ago, Michelle Souza, now 37, went to Dave Justus to get toys for her son.

"I was pregnant with my second one. I had my first one. I was on social services. My boyfriend at the time wasn't working, and we had no toys, no nothing," she said.

Dave, a 70-year-old retired truck driver, has remortgaged his house every year for 40 years to help buy toys and food to help children and families in need.

He and his wife, Marion, estimate they spend about $10,000 a year out of their own pocket on goods for the small food shelf they run out of a spare bedroom in their home. Because of their generosity, 685 area children were given toys last year at no cost to their parents.

Now, the Justuses live on social security and have no other source of income.

Luckily, area sponsors, such as the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association and the Franklin Correctional Facility, help Dave each year by donating to Toys for Kids.

"It takes about every cent that we can (get) … just to keep this thing floating," he said.

Souza, who has stayed in touch with Dave all these years, is helping to organize the first-ever Justus for the Children Softball Tournament to give back to the man who has done so much for others for so long.

Five teams have already signed up to play in the coed tournament and, so far, 13 local businesses have agreed to sponsor the benefit, she said.

Plenty of kid-friendly activities will also be available at the tournament, including $3 rides by Souza's Mystic Minis and Friends, games and a lollipop tree. Photos may also be taken with Souza's horses for $5 and will be printed on-site. All proceeds will go to Dave's Justus for the Children fund. Dave, a professional clown, will also be dressed as "Patches" and will be giving rides in his clown car.

Several raffles, a Chinese auction and entertainment by R&L DJ Service are also planned.

While the bulk of Dave's work is during the holiday season, he works year-round to help others in many different ways.

He operates his 24-hour food shelf, and has gone to the grocery store at 3 a.m. to get food for people in emergency situations. He also collects furniture to give to people who lose their homes in fires.

"If they can come get it, fine, and if they can't, we'll deliver it to them," Dave said.

More than 7,000 have been given toys since 1999. That year, Dave began keeping records of what he gives away after some people came back for toys or other items multiple times after their need was met.

"The kids that we were taking care of have grown up and they've had kids. … It's so long," he said.

In addition to those services, Dave has worked with battered women for 15 years.

While many hear of him through word of mouth, the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity, Social Services and the North Country Chapter of the American Red Cross have referred people to him, even though he receives no monetary assistance for his efforts other than sponsor's donations.

Some may wonder why Dave has dedicated more than half his life to helping others using his personal finances.

"I was brought up in homes all over the place. And a lot of Christmases I never got anything. I went without. … So, that's why I do what I do — because I don't want to see a child go without … and I don't want to see a child go hungry."

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