WARSAW — In their Santa Claus-red fire trucks Saturday morning, firefighters from all across Kosciusko County delivered boxes and bags of toys to the Toys for Tots toy drive at Martin’s Super Market in Warsaw.
It’s a tradition that dates back so many years, Kevin McSherry, Kosciusko Fireman’s Association, can’t remember exactly when the 14 fire departments in the county began participating in the toy drive, but it’s definitely been a long time.
“We don’t know, but we’re going to keep doing it,” McSherry said. They’ve already started for next year, he said, as he received a check Saturday morning for it.
The fire departments gathered at JB’s Furniture on Center Street in Warsaw early Saturday morning before caravanning over to Martin’s on Husky Trail to drop the toys off. Before the fire trucks left with their lights and sirens sounding, JB’s Furniture gave McSherry a $1,000 check for Toys for Tots, which he handed over to Chris Cage, coordinator for Toys for Tots of Kosciusko County.
McSherry, Burket Fire Department chief, said the purpose of it is “to make sure kids can have a decent Christmas.” He said it was the fundraising for the toys that really has to be planned.
“Little fire departments like myself and Sidney, Silver Lake and Etna Green – that’s a lot of money. We bought $1,300 in toys the other night and that’s a lot of money for us,” he said. “We started a thing a few years ago where, at our fish fries, when somebody, say their fish bill is $18 and they say, ‘Here’s a 20, just keep the change,’ so the ‘keep the change’ goes into the Toys for Tots fund. And, luckily, every fish fry we’re able to make a $100 or $120 in ‘keep the change’ money.”
This year the fish fries helped raise $1,300 for Toys for Tots.
The firefighters chip in themselves, too, with McSherry estimating $200-$300 coming in from them.
Turkey Creek Township Fire Chief Mickey Scott said his fire department has participated in the toy drive ever since the beginning, but he also didn’t know how far back that’s been.
He said they are able to participate “from donations and stuff that we receive.” They have a pork chop and chicken barbecue in the summer and they ask for donations for Toys for Tots then.
This year, Scott said they were able to purchase about $500-$600 in toys. “It worked out pretty good,” he said.
Milford Fire Department is known for the amount of toys they collect every year for the toy drive.
Virgil Sharp, Milford fire chief, said a lot of what they raise just stems from the fact that their members like to donate and the department also donates a little bit.
“There’s been times where we’re standing around talking and somebody will put down a $20. Here comes somebody with a $5 bill, a $10 bill, and it all adds up and that’s how a lot of times we end up with so many toys,” Sharp said.
He said they don’t do any fundraiser or special event for it.
“We just have a lot of giving families and a lot of the families will take their kids shopping and drop their stuff off at the station. And it’s all members of the department that do it,” Sharp said.
Most years, he estimated they are able to buy $1,500 to $2,000 in toys. They’ll go shopping on Black Friday and get the toys cheaper.
“It helps to go when there’s sales and you get more for your money then,” he said.
The Milford trailer and equipment van were used to transport the toys Saturday. There were approximately 10 bicycles in the trailer.
“This is a special time as a department … everybody on the department as a family comes together, and their kids, and we enjoy it. It’s a special time,” Sharp said.
Kevin Wagoner, Sidney fire chief, said they begin to look for toys after Christmas to get deals then for the following year’s event.
“All of our toys come through the volunteers fund,” he said.
Winona Lake Fire Department Public Information Officer Mike Cox explained, “We donate money from our department funds every year and we go buy toys. We did have a couple of the boxes out this year, and that helped because people were generous with their toys. We raise money in a lot of ways – we play bingo in Syracuse and then we use some of that money. But it’s all money from the department, not the town budget.”
He said they usually do the toy shopping as it gets closer to the toy drive because of sales and people are willing to provide “extra stuff” when they let them know what it’s for.
“The guys went out Wednesday and picked out almost a room full of toys. That’s probably the best we’ve done in recent years, anyway,” Cox said.
Terry Himes, WLFD, said they went to R.P. Home & Harvest who made them a really good deal of 50% off. They were able to purchase about $1,300 in toys there.
“Our goal was to beat Milford,” he said. “… So we’re going to start earlier next year getting toys bought and stuff.”
R.P. “really helped us out a lot with their sales because it’s going to be Runnings out there now. A change of hands and they want to get rid of all the R.P. stuff, so they got us a good deal on all the toys and stuff we needed,” Himes said.
Runnings, a Minnesota-based retailer, announced in April it was acquiring R.P.
If a child gets to open just one gift on Christmas, that’s better than nothing, Himes said. “And having delivered toys in the past, nobody gets just one,” Cox said.
Two hours into the three-hour toy drive Saturday, Cage said, “Everything’s going well. It’s a good morning this morning. I had quite a few donations. Some of the big groups came in: BCI Solutions, Echoes of the Past, American Legion Riders out of Syracuse came in with a big trailer full of toys and we’re getting ready for all the local fire departments to come in through here shortly and that’s always a good time to see the parade of fire trucks come through.”
If a person couldn’t make it out to the toy drive Saturday at Martin’s, Cage said the boxes are still out at participating businesses – Menard’s, Martin’s, Walmart, Meijer, Dollar General Stores, etc. – for a few more days. The Willie 103.5 radio station toy drive also will be out at Meijer 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. all week.
“If you pick up a new unwrapped toy, drop it in a box, we’ll get it collected and get it out to the warehouse and get it distributed,” Cage said. “I can tell you, we thought the need was great last year, but we have just right now, with a few days left in sign-ups, we’re pretty much where we were last year with a few days left. So, the need is great and we need toys.”
Over 400 families had signed up as of Saturday. Sign-up ended Sunday. “And that’s just the families, not counting the kids,” Cage said.
He thanked the Warsaw Community High School choir for caroling during Saturday’s event, as well as all the volunteers who helped out as well.
Toys will be handed out Dec. 16, a little differently than in past years. Instead of the toys being delivered to families, families will pick them up from 8 a.m. to noon Dec. 16. The address of the warehouse will be provided to the families.
“They’ll be able to just pull up, and we’ll go in and grab the bags and load them up for them,” Cage said. “It’s a little different this year, but a lot of the other Toys for Tots campaigns are doing the same thing.”
If a family can’t find a way to pick up the toys on Dec. 16, Cage said other arrangements can be made.
“A lot of the other Toys for Tots organizations said they have been doing it for a few years now, and it works out great, and it cuts down on our volunteers driving all over the county to find addresses. It’s a good thing. We’re going to try it out this year and see how it works,” Cage explained.
This is the 29th year WNDU Channel 16 has been a part of Toys for Tots throughout Michiana.
Meteorologist Andrew Whitmyer was live at the Martin’s in Warsaw. Saturday was his third year of airing live for WNDU for Toys for Tots.
“It’s really to just give back to the community. WNDU, Gray Television, we’re all about giving back to the community and helping the community as best as we can and to serve that community, so that’s what Toys for Tots is about, it’s about giving back to those families that need the help during this holiday season,” he said.
Whitmyer said the toy drive made him feel happy about helping the community and families in need.
“It’s just kind of nice to give back in that way and know that you’re helping someone that could use a leg up this year,” he said.
People will come out to donate whether it’s snowing, icy, pouring down rain or sunny and 60 degrees. “Either way people will still come out,” Whitmyer said, adding that Saturday’s decent weather provided a leg up with the toy drive. “Thankfully, this year, it’s been about 40 degrees. It’s a little cloudy, a little damp, but we can’t complain this year. We’ve seen much worse weather for Toys for Tots at all of our locations.”
Tim Martin, store director for Martin’s, and Missy Albright, assistant manager, bakery, brought out some toys in shopping carts Saturday for the drive.
Martin said they were asked to host the toy drive from the beginning and “basically, from there, we’ve just been taking it on every year and we’re just glad to be a part of it.”
On the toys in the shopping carts, he said some generous folks sometimes just drop them off at the front of the store and Martin’s just brings them out. “We try to donate some toys ourselves,” he said.
Albright said, “It’s always a good time of the season to be able to give. I’m always one I’d rather give than receive, so that’s what we need to do and be positive about it. That’s what Christmas is all about – giving rather than receiving.”