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More than 2,000 local children to have Christmas because of Toys for Tots program

December 20, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com
  • Marine PVC Brandon Moats loads food in carts at the annual Salvation Army/Toys for Tots giveaway program on Thursday.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

April Blackburn was selecting toys for three of her five children Thursday at the annual Salvation Army/Toys for Tots giveaway program held in the former CVS building at Longmeadow Shopping Center north of Hagerstown.

“If it wasn’t for this my kids wouldn’t really have Christmas because I have no income,” said Blackburn, of Sharpsburg. “Family can only do so much. I’m just happy for the kids because they deserve it, and it’s great that they’re helping children in need.”

Blackburn, 34, said she was shopping for her 9-year old daughter and her 3-year old and 4-year old sons. She said her family would help out with her other two children.

More than 1,000 families, which includes more than 2,200 children, were scheduled to have somebody show up Thursday to pick out toys, food and other items at the giveaway, according to Major Karen Lyle of the Salvation Army.

“It’s a great experience that when you can’t afford stuff, people will help you out,” said Shannon Venable, 30, of Hagerstown, who has three children. “The kids will at least wake up Christmas morning and have something to open.”

In addition to the toys, everybody received a box of non-perishable food and $20 Martin’s gift cards, Lyle said. She said the goal was for everybody to walk away with nine items.

“All of the toys that are on the table represent the community, and we are going to give them out until they’re gone,” she said. “Hagerstown and Washington County are very generous people.”

The Salvation Army spent more than $24,000 to purchase the toys, and Lyle estimated that it will probably spend about $120,000 this year on Christmas overall, which includes money raised through its Christmas kettle drive.

About 14,000 toys were provided by Toys for Tots, 99 percent of which were donated, Chairman Jim Mills said. The organization set up collection boxes in 220 spots across the county for donations.

“We’re filling the Christmas needs,” Mills said. “This is a wonderful project. They get countless items.”

Mills said Toys for Tots collected about 16,000 toys, including 8,000 in the past two weeks.

On Saturday, any toys that are left over will be taken by members of the organization to be dropped off at homes of families in need who could not make it to the giveaway.

Michaela Gelwicks, 23, of Hagerstown expressed her appreciation for the organizations and the volunteer workers.

“It’s very special that people come together to help kids,” said Gelwicks, who has a 1-year old son. “It’s going to be wonderful to see my son able to open his presents.”

Members of both organizations and volunteer workers had been setting up for the event since the end of last week, Lyle said. Around 150 volunteers showed up to help Thursday.

Mark Shockey, 48, of Waynesboro, said he has been volunteering to help at the event for five years.

“For me it’s a nice way to be able to give back to the community,” he said. “This says a lot to me how people in the community can pull together and help out those in need. I save a vacation day for this.”

Maria Levy, of Hagerstown, also volunteered to help out, and this was her third year.

“It’s good to give back, especially in a community that is very giving,” she said. “Christmas should be a time of giving.”

The doors opened at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, and Lyle said they would remain open until all of the families scheduled to come in had been served. She added that about 115 other families will be able to come in Friday and pick from items that are left.

To be eligible for the giveaway program, Lyle said that families have to fill out applications in October and November.

James Wiggington, Sr., 42, of Hagerstown, was picking out toys for his 9-year old son Thursday.

“This is a great cause,” he said. “Everything I have in the bag is everything he asked for. It’s like a miracle.”

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