Thirteen of the 14 fire departments in Kosciusko County met Saturday morning at JB’s Furniture to caravan to Martin’s Super Market to deliver donations for the Toys For Tots toy drive.
Burket Fire & Rescue Assistant Chief Dave Sheets said this was the first year the Kosciusko County Fireman’s Association delivered the toys to Toys For Tots as a group. Each fire department collected its own toys.
“We’d like to thank 1-800-BOARD-UP,” Sheets said. “They brought us coffee, doughnuts and toys.”
The Fireman’s Association includes 374 firemen from 14 departments and includes men and women, according to Burket Fire Chief Kevin McSherry.
The toy drive Saturday was from 7 to 11:30 a.m., with WNDU-16 anchor Tricia Sloma and meteorologist David Harker broadcasting until 10 a.m.
Sloma said this was the 21st year WNDU broadcasted during the Toys For Tots drive, the first year being in 1995.
“The very first year, we only did it at the South Bend location. We caught on this could be a bigger deal. The next year, I started doing Warsaw,” she said, with the other two locations including Benton Harbor and Elkhart.
Sloma said she’s always been at the Warsaw toy drive except for two years she hosted it from the station.
“The generosity of the community … I’m just blown away by the people who are in need but still give,” she said.
Over the years, Sloma said she’s met people whose families were helped by Toys For Tots and now that they’re adults they give to the program. It’s become a part of their lives.
Toys For Tots is the only program supported by the Department of Defense, led by the U.S. Marine Corp. When WNDU joined with the Marines for the program, Sloma said WNDU helped the Marines in filling a void by making the community more aware of it. The first year, in just South Bend, approximately 10,000 toys were collected. Over the last 21 years, that has reached almost 400,000.
“The toys raised in Kosciusko County stay in Kosciusko County. The need changes and grows every year. We seem to meet it every year,” Sloma said.
Now, new partners have come aboard for the program, including Willie 103.5 and the Kosciusko County Fireman’s Association, Sloma said.
“It starts my holiday season every year,” she said.
Martin’s Manager Shawn Morrow said Saturday was the second time in Martin’s five years in Warsaw that it hosted the toy drive in its parking lot. The first time was the first year Martin’s was operating in the city. This year, Martin’s asked Toys For Tots to come back, and Morrow said the supermarket was excited to have it.
He said Martin’s likes to be involved in the community and to team up with other organizations to help the community – that’s what Martin’s is all about.
Not only did Martin’s host the drive, but Morrow said it has a toy drop-off box in the front of the store so its employees could give “like anyone else,” and the store bought some toys to give during the drive Saturday.
Warsaw Police Dept. Sgt. and former U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. David Morales, the Toys For Tots Kosciusko County area coordinator, said that as of almost 10 a.m. Saturday the toy drive was “slow, but then suddenly we got a huge surprise from the Kosciusko County Fireman’s Association. Each fire truck had a number of toys. We ended up filling up the first truck and on to the second truck.”
Monetary donations were great, with $3,600 given Saturday morning. In 2014, monetary donations totaled $2,200. Morales said donations are still welcomed and can be dropped off at the WPD or online at the Foundation’s website, designated for Kosciusko County.
Families signed up to receive toys three days last week, with the last day being 4 to 8 p.m. today. Morales said they were on “record track” with sign-ups, having signed up 120 on the first day. As of Saturday, a total of 220 families have signed up for Christmas assistance this year. He encouraged people to come in and get signed up if they needed assistance with the holiday this year. The Toys For Tots website offers information on how the program can help them.
As for volunteers Saturday, Morales said he had a number of them, including members of the high school Octagon Club. Select chorales from Warsaw and Wawasee high schools also performed during the drive.
Four-year Marines Corp. Chris Tellef and Corp. Justin Douglas were on hand at the drive in full uniform, helping unload the donations.
“Normally, you don’t get to do stuff like this,” Douglas said. “You get to see people donating for kids and volunteering. Normally, you don’t get to see that.”
Tellef said he’s taking part in the drive in Warsaw for three years now. He said it was great to see everyone coming and generously donating.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to see everyone being generous,” Tellef said.
“It helps make you forget all the bad things going on in the world,” Douglas added.
Gary Gross, Warsaw, estimated he’s volunteered at the drive for the past five years.
“One, it’s a good thing to do, obviously,” he said. “My wife and I also are close to Morales’ son Javier, so we want to help every year that we can. I’ve brought church members out, and we do it every year we can.”
He said one of the neat things about volunteering at the Toys For Tots drive is, “You’ll see someone in a really old car and they don’t look like they have much, but they will give bags and bags of stuff. I have heard of people who save their money up just so they can do this.”
Toys can still be donated at the following locations in Warsaw: Big R, Walmart, Dollar General Stores, Martin’s, Monteith Tire, First Federal Credit Union, Beacon Credit Union, Dental Solutions, Align Life, Work One, CVS, Walgreen’s, Owen’s stores, Reneker’s, Old National Bank, city hall, Warsaw Community Schools, WPD, Marsh, Family Video, Ruby Tuesday and Best Deal Auto. Morales said Best Deal is a big supporter of Toys For Tots at all its locations.
Outside of Warsaw, boxes are at: Dollar General in Pierceton, Milford, Syracuse and North Webster; Lizard’s Bar, Milford; Village at Winona; Lakeside Fitness, Syracuse; and CVS in Syracuse and North Webster.
For more information, check the Toys For Tots website at www.toysfortots.org; contact Morales at 574-371-5099, Ext. 2367 or 574-372-9511; or email firstname.lastname@example.org
(Story By The Times Union)