33: Where Do Those Toys Go?

33: Where Do Those Toys Go?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Where Do Those Toys Go?

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

~Winston Churchill

I always wondered where the toys go. Those toys collected for Toys for Tots — where do they go? Are they whisked immediately to the North Pole and entered into inventory at Santa’s workshop? Do the elves collect them, wrap them and take them to the UPS Store to send them to families around the world?

My question was answered this past December when my family and I volunteered with United Way of Martin County in Florida. I’m sure my eyes were as wide as a child’s on Christmas morning when we entered a building at the fairgrounds and saw thousands of toys and games lined up, along with hundreds of bikes and helmets.

For years, a core group of volunteers have led this massive Christmas effort to make sure that families have the opportunity to give to their own children, just like you and I give to our children. When I asked the lead volunteer why she does this year after year, tears welled up in her eyes. She shared a story about a shopping trip at Walmart when a family that received toys from the Toys for Tots drive had recognized her. That mother told the volunteer how special their Christmas was and shared that it was only possible because of the toys they got from the drive.

The volunteer understands hard times herself. She and her family had some difficulties in the past. The kindness she received during those months helped her family get back on their feet, and volunteering to bring Christmas to others was her way of paying it forward. I realized that the volunteers all had their own stories, which were just as powerful as those of the families they were serving.

Every family that came to the fairgrounds to pick out Christmas presents had gone through a big process just to get there. They had to fill out an application before they were approved and assigned a time to show up. The parents needed to request time off from work to make the appointment. This happened 3,000 times. That was the number of families that made their children’s Christmas wishes come true with the help of Toys for Tots and United Way of Martin County.

You may wonder, like I did, how they managed to deliver Christmas to so many families in just forty-eight hours. Their system was flawless. They started by dividing the toys into boy and girl categories. Then the toys were organized by age. Massive tables were covered with unwrapped toys, allowing the families to see what they could get for their children. Toys continued to flow in, and the numbers continued to be crunched. Using simple math, they took the applicants they had and divided the toys by the needs listed. This generated a number that the shopping volunteers could fulfill. The majority of the gifts were for young children; hence, the day of the event each child was allowed three small gifts, one major gift, and every half hour there was a drawing for a new bike and helmet.

Our daughter Michelle shared with me that they were instructed to spend as much time shopping with their clients as possible. This was the one time that the family could shop for their children and not have to worry about the cost. Michelle told me about one mom she worked with, both speaking Spanish, as they laughed and worked their way down the packed tables of toys. She said the mom was so careful picking out toys for her three small children that it took almost an hour to get through the process. When they were checking out her full cart, the mom had a complete breakdown. She hugged and thanked my daughter and all the volunteers for showing her compassion and kindness through this difficult time.

Our son John had a similar experience. His shopper was lucky enough to have won a bike and helmet. If you won the bike raffle, you had to give back the “major” gift that you had selected. This system is really fair. But John’s shopper took it to a new level. Not only did she give back the major gift that she had chosen for her child, but she announced that she was giving the bike to a family down the street that had a son with no toys. The bike would be a perfect gift for him. This was the most touching story. It didn’t matter how much she and her family were in need, she was sharing her win with the family down the street. How selfless!

During Christmastime, when we focus on our families and ourselves, I truly enjoyed giving to someone else. This organization has me hooked, and I know our family will be back next year to help out. I learned a few things along the way. It is respectful to buy Barbie dolls that look like the families in your community. Moms were asking for dolls with dark complexions. I learned that Toys for Tots also serves a teenage group, and they had the least amount of toys, mostly cologne for the boys and nail polish for the girls. I will shop differently next year to help that group of kids. I learned how dedicated the volunteers are to this particular project and after spending the day with them, I understood why.

If you have never volunteered at a Christmas event or a soup kitchen, I encourage you to give it a try. I have never been so fulfilled and wrapped in the Christmas spirit as I was that day.

~Carrie Morgridge

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