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He's the man with the toys

Kiwanis member keeps toy shop running smoothly

Kiwanis member keeps toy shop running smoothly

December 20, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.

Editor's Note: This is the sixth story in a 10-part series about people who make this holiday season brighter for others. The series concludes Christmas Eve.

charlestown@herald-mail.com

He's not Santa Claus, but he's close.

Every year at Christmastime, Mickey Johnson greets hundreds of parents of needy children inside the parish hall at Zion Episcopal Church along Washington Street.

Welcome to Santa's Jefferson County Toy Shop, where Johnson helps parents select toys for their children in a room jammed with goodies like train sets, dolls and video games.

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Every year, the Charles Town Kiwanis Club organizes the toy shop to give children in need a chance to have something special to brighten Christmas.

In early November, the club places large boxes at local businesses to collect toys for children, and also seeks cash donations from businesses to buy toys, said Johnson, the toy shop manager.

This year, more than $10,000 was raised, Johnson said.

After Thanksgiving, the club's 42 members take part of the money and buy presents, Johnson said.

The toys are laid out on tables in a large room in the parish hall and two days are set aside for parents to stop by and pick out three gifts for each child, Johnson said.

This year, those days were Dec. 9 and 10.

"I'm the stock boy," said Johnson, explaining how he replenishes the toys as parents do their shopping.

Planning for the Jefferson County Toy Shop starts in July, and the work involves distributing applications for the program to school counselors and people who work in local social service agencies, Johnson said.

Those people determine which children could benefit from the program, Johnson said.

Jefferson County Community Ministries reviews the applications to determine who will participate and makes sure the families are not already receiving assistance, Johnson said.

Johnson said businesses that donate money sometimes develop their own promotional programs to generate interest in the toy shop. Adelphia Communications one year offered free television cable installation to customers who donated a toy for the program, Johnson said.

This year, a local gas station donated a large box of collectible metal cars and trucks.

"Things like that just seem to happen," said Johnson, adding that toys are given to 300 to 400 children a year.

Johnson said he has fond memories of managing the toy shop in recent years, such as letters from parents thanking the local Kiwanis Club for making Christmas more cheerful.

Johnson said he remembers one parent making a contribution to the program after that person received assistance one year.

"They remembered how important it was for them. It's a pretty warm feeling," Johnson said.




Wednesday: Doug Pittsnogle of Hagerstown

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