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Volunteers embark on Toy Mission in Chambersburg

October 01, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - More like Santa's Repair Shop than workshop, a group of about 20 volunteers Tuesday huddled over toys and games in various states of disrepair in the Chambersburg Toy Mission.

Halloween is still a month away, but the volunteers are gearing up to get gift packages ready for hundreds of children across Franklin County by Christmas Day. The toy mission opened Tuesday and the workers, mostly retired, will come each Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m. to the headquarters at 204 Lincoln Way West to repair, repackage and sort donated toys, according to Director Juanita Welker.

That is also when people can drop off used toys, preferably in good condition.

"We give away about a hundred bicycles a year. We have a crew of men that works on them," volunteer Joanne Stamm said as she passed through a room filled with reconditioned bikes. Dozens more hang from the ceiling in the area where Jack Goodhart was putting new tires on a girl's bicycle.

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"Good as new when they're done, really," Goodhart said. In some cases, a bike might just need a new inner tube, but some are completely rebuilt and repainted, the retired teacher said.

"I always imagine a little kid getting it at Christmas. Jumping up and down on the porch," Dottie Oliver said as she cleaned a doll stroller. Like other volunteers, she could not recall exactly how many years she worked for the mission, which Welker said was established 57 years ago by the late Lawrence Nessel, a local grocer.

While the former car dealership that serves as the workshop, storage and distribution center will be humming with activity over the next several weeks, Welker said some volunteers work throughout the year at home. She pointed to several large trash bags filled with teddy bears a woman cleaned up over the summer.

Last year, the mission gave toys to 773 children 12 and younger throughout Franklin County, Welker said.

Once the toys are reconditioned, they are repackaged and separated into appropriate age categories. As requests from parents come in, volunteers cull the collection to find gifts to match each child.

Request forms include the child's top three choices. Each child also receives a book and puzzle as educational gifts and Welker said most of the younger children will get some kind of musical toy.

"We emphasize, please get your order in early," said Welker. The deadline for requests is Dec. 6 and assistance forms are available at social service agencies, churches and some businesses.

"CD players we get a lot of requests for, but they're just too expensive," said Charlie Wise, another volunteer. Computers and computer games are also usually beyond the budget of the mission, which operated on cash donations of $7,433 last year.

In-kind contributions include businesses and civic organizations that distribute the toys on the days before Christmas, Welker said. In all, about 100 people are involved, she said.

Batteries are included, if a toy requires them, Wise said. "That's a big expense for the whole outfit," he said.

Welker said she spends a lot of time bargain hunting through the year for batteries, pencils and other items for the gift packs.

At one work bench, Earl Schroth was trying to get a talking Teletubbie doll to speak again. It did not really matter that he had never heard of Teletubbies.

"My father was an electrician and he taught me to do a lot of things," he said as he checked the wiring on the stuffed toy's voice box.

"Hi. Big hug," the Teletubbie said.

"It's nice when you can get them working," Schroth said.

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