Toys for Tots’ annual Hand it to a Hero drive brought out the giving spirit of some people who passed by the tables and donation boxes at both entrances to Walmart off Campbell Lane.
Military, law enforcement and firefighters from different entities stood waiting for any donations that would come their way and, according to Toys for Tots Coordinator Janel Doyle, there was a lot coming in throughout the day. As of 12:30 p.m. Saturday, the program had received $2,000 in donations.
“Walmart gave us $1,000, so we have had a group of shoppers buying toys with that, and Shop at Home Carpet buys our heroes lunches and they use the remainder of the funds to buy toys,” said Doyle, adding they spent about $750 for toys.
Two of the donors that brought a shopping cart full of toys were 14-year-old Maggie Meister and 10-year-old Claudia Meister.
“We donated toys for ages 0-12 years old and we spent $350 for Toys for Tots,” Maggie said. “This is the first year we started doing this. We’ve always been into Toys for Tots, but we never got into as much as we have this year. We have friends who work with Toys for Tots and we have been working with them in the past to get toys to the kids.
“I think programs like these are a good thing,” Maggie said. “I hope in the future we have more programs like this in the area. There are a lot of families that don’t have high income and they need our support.”
“This program can help other kids that might not live in a good environment,” Claudia said.
Other donations from people like Brian Bunch had significance to him and his family.
“I donated a fire engine because my son is a Marine Corps Reserve, he was at Fort Knox but has moved to Florida and he has also graduated from the Fire Academy in Florida and started at a fire department down there,” Bunch said. “So, I donated a fire engine to sort of honor both his being part of the Marine Corps Reserves and being a firefighter. The holiday season is a hard time for a lot of people and we are blessed we are a little more fortunate, so why not give?”
Some of the law enforcement volunteers present at the drive have been working to bring toys to children in Warren County for a few years.
“This is my third year being out here helping out with Toys for Tots,” said Kevin Harrod, a deputy at the Warren County Regional Jail. “Anytime you can give is a good opportunity. We have unfortunate situations where people can’t do it themselves.”
The military connections Toys for Tots has is another big factor for Harrod.
“We have people over there fighting for us who aren’t here for the holidays so coming here and doing this to give back to families is a great thing to do,” he said.
For other volunteers, it is a chance to interact with the community.
“It is a great opportunity for all of us to come together and bring some awareness to the Toys for Tots event,” Warren County Sheriff Brett Hightower said. “We want to always work on a situation like this where we can get as many resources as we can to those who are underprivileged, and won’t be having Christmas this year. We want every boy and girl to wake up and have something under the tree or something given to them.
“I used to be in the Marine Corps Reserves and I had been somewhat associated with Toys for Tots for a number of years,” Hightower said. “But it has really grown locally for the last 15 to 20 years; it has gained a lot of community support.”
“I have been primarily volunteering with Toys for Tots for the past three years,” Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Matthew Allred said. “It gives me more of an availability to work directly with the community. Being able to help other people that are less fortunate, it is rewarding to see those that are eager to help those who are less fortunate. Even young kids 3 or 4 years old, they are so enthusiastic about it, so being able to contribute, that is really gratifying. It is an excellent program. Not only is everyone in the giving spirit but keeping in mind that others are not as fortunate and trying to help out and let them have a good Christmas as well.”
“It is great because not everyone has an opportunity to enjoy Christmas,” Kentucky State Police Trooper Daniel Priddy said. “Anything we can do to make the community a better place, that is what we’re for is to help people.”
The job is no easy task getting the toys where they need to go and the beginning of the process starts with Susan Harmon, the Toys for Tots phone coordinator.
“I do a sign-up genius for volunteers to answer the phone and we answer Monday through Friday until Dec. 15,” she said. “The volunteers take ticket orders and they are talking to the people who are wanting to get toys for their kids for Christmas.”
There are some requirements in order to receive help from the program.
“They have to live in Warren County, they have to have a birth certificate or have paperwork for foster kids, have a photo ID and then the volunteer takes down how many boys or how many girls they have and then they tell them the ticket number, pick up date and time.”
Harmon has been part of Toys for Tots for 11 years.
“I like to help people,” she said. “I think it is very important for our community to come together and help those who are less fortunate. A lot of the parents are working parents. It is just hard to make it sometimes.”
“This has been worth every effort,” Doyle said. “Because of the local support, our local heroes get to come out and interact with kids and their families and bring in monetary and toy donations that will help our kids in Warren County.”