Red Toy Drive collection boxes have become a familiar holiday season sight in the Pickerington community, and they’re out and ready to receive donations at 20 locations again this year.
The Violet Township Fire Department’s firefighters organize the annual event. About the second or third week of November, signs are posted at all three fire stations. Firefighter James Barber is in charge for the third year.
“The event began several years ago, when Kroger approached a couple of our older members,” Barber says. “It’s just gotten bigger and bigger since then.”
More than 900 families were served last year.
“Demand increases every year,” says Lt. Gregg Goodwin, who preceded Barber as organizer of the drive. “The whole department participates. It’s a full-time job for two or three guys, even with the help of volunteers, to manage all the donations during the drive.”
Along with Barber and Goodwin, Lt. Dave Belcher, Lt. Don Searls and department secretary Kristi Huskey direct the Toy Drive.
The firefighters have important partners in their effort. The Pickerington Girl Scouts collect donations and also assist with the drive-through drop-off day, which will take place on Dec. 15 this year.
“We’ll have someone stopping by to drop something off every 10 or 15 minutes,” says Goodwin. “We try to make sure there is a firefighter there to thank them. By the middle of December, we’ve turned our training room into toy central.”
The Pickerington Local School District also collects donations, and Harmon Middle School is heavily involved, targeting gifts for teens including bicycles and electronics. The department receives many toys for the little ones, but always has a big need for gift items for older children, Goodwin says. Gift cards are especially welcome.
Several area churches collect donations as well, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society also contributes to the effort.
Families in the Pickerington school district are served first, and then the rest of the donations are distributed throughout Fairfield County.
Pickerington families come in and do their “shopping” in groups.
Diane Williams of Maywood Mission coordinates eligibility, pickup and delivery of items bound for the rest of the county. The Toy Drive makes a big difference in the mission’s ability to meet needs, Williams says.
“If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t make it,” she says. “We have a lot of people come in at the end, because we are the last agency in the community still providing help at that time. We served 1,500 children last year.”
Maywood Mission sends a truck to the fire station four times during the drive. The gifts are shipped to Lancaster, then packaged and delivered to families.
“Diane has been a tremendous asset. She does a lot of our footwork, and we really appreciate her,” says Barber.
Families can apply for assistance through their children’s guidance counselors, Fairfield County Job and Family Services, and Fairfield County 211. All applications are screened to ensure that recipients reside in the county, meet eligibility requirements and are not registered with multiple agencies.
“We want to make sure that we take care with distributing the generous donations people give,” says Williams. “We have established lists, so we know most of the people we serve.”
Williams has been with Maywood Mission for 10 years, and she has seen the need for assistance increase significantly in that time, particularly in the last few years. The mission also distributes food boxes, food cards, gasoline cards, blankets, heaters, warm clothing and coats to adults.
“The firefighters do a really good job,” she says. “We also want to thank the community for their support. It was amazing last year. I enjoy this. This is my favorite time of the year. There are plenty of people out there who are really hurting, and this really makes a difference.”
Interested in making a donation? The department is still accepting new, unwrapped toys – as well as gift cards and monetary donations – through Dec. 19. Items can be dropped off at all Violet Township fire stations and a number of local businesses as well. Locations and updates can be obtained by calling 614-382-5952, emailing email@example.com or visiting the Violet Township Firefighters Toy Drive page on Facebook.
Pickerington resident Brenda Layman is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.