FAIRMONT – Almost 900 Marion County children got an early Christmas Friday.
All it took was one trip to the Marion County Election Center where scores of volunteers passed out toys as part of the Annual Marion County Christmas Toy Shop.
“We started stocking and they have really done a great job,” said Butch Tennant, chair of the Marion County Christmas Toy Shop. “We’ve had volunteers here since Nov. 2 when they started stocking the place.”
This is the 11th annual year of the Christmas Toy Shop, and the biggest yet in terms of service, according to Tennant. Having raised about $16,000, the money had to spread to help about 890 kids; the most that have ever signed up to receive gifts through the program, which is a joint effort of the Marion County Board of Education, the Marion County Commission, the Council of Churches and many other volunteers and nonprofits.
“This is the most that’s ever signed up,” Tennant said. “We had almost 900 kids signed up.”
The Christmas Toy Shop got its start years ago when the founders realized how many kids were going without Christmas presents because their parents would not be able to afford them during the season. Tennant said they believed that every kid should be able to have a Christmas, because at least once a year, they should have their wishes granted.
“With utility bills, house payments, food, car payments, everyday living expenses, so many people do not have any affordable income they can spend on toys,” said Rev. D.D. Meighen, one of the founders of the Christmas Toy Shop. “This becomes a real opportunity for them to have a good Christmas.”
Tennant said that on top of the record number of recipients, this year also had the most volunteers ever, with individuals, charity organizations, churches and
businesses all chipping in to help.
The Marion County Board of Education has been helping the whole season for the Toy Shop since this year’s program got organized in September. Students from different high schools volunteered to help shop for age-appropriate toys. Overall, about $9,000 was raised by local schools. Almost every child the Toy Shop helps is or will be a student in Marion County Schools.
“I think it’s important that Marion Countians support each other,” said Chad Norman, administrative assistant for Marion County Schools and its Toy Shop coordinator. “We are certainly blessed to have a supportive community that reaches out to help each other in times of need.”
Volunteers walked shoppers down the rows of tables stacked with toys and games, it was hard not to see how the program helps others. While the Toy Shop didn’t start this big, it has since become a prime opportunity for people to give back over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“This brings the community together,” Meighen said. “There are no other major opportunities for the community to come together to work together, to not only make us feel good, but to do something for the people in the county.”
For the Nuzum family, the Toy Shop is both a helping and bonding opportunity for three generations of the family. Volunteers Terri and Bill Nuzum brought their daughter, Jennifer Sturm, now of North Carolina, who brought her daughter, Jayden Sturm, because they all wanted to do something good for the community as a family.
Terri Nuzum said she got involved with the Toy Shop through her own love of restoring stuffed animals. She first volunteered three years ago.
“I wash them, I put new bows on them,” Terri said. “The Ranch in Morgantown works with me on prices, Goodwill does sometimes, and I go all year long and only try and pick out the really really nice ones, or the ones I can clean.”
These stuffed animals crowded tables in the back of the Election Center, and were popular for parents looking for presents for just about any age. Terri Nuzum said she keeps helping with the Toy Shop because it is an effort for kids who are probably would not otherwise have a Christmas.
“These kids deserve the same kind of toys that everyone else gets,” she said. “They should be clean, they should be pretty and they should be loveable.”
“It makes me so happy to do this that it makes me sad, but I know this is for the kids.”
Kelly Tobrey went to the Toy Shop with a friend, Terrie Hayes, to shop for Hayes’ 11-year-old son. Tobrey said the shop allows Hayes to give her son gifts for Christmas.
“It’s a blessing because they don’t have a lot,” Tobrey said. “This means that her son will have a Christmas, and I’m grateful that people do this for these kids, and it’s a great opportunity to be here and watch these kids get toys they would have never gotten.”
Tennant said the toys that are left over after this year’s distribution go to the Salvation Army, but they are normally sparse once every parent has picked them up.
“I want to thank everyone who has donated and everyone who is working it,” Tennant said. “It’s another successful year – probably the biggest year we’ve ever had.”
The program aims to provide toys for children birth to age 14 based using income guidelines for free lunch eligibility. Students parents or guardians signed up for the Toy Shop through their child’s school.