For most days of the year, Grand Starz is an average bingo hall in north Brownwood.
But every December it’s transformed into a bustling approximation of the North Pole, filled with Santa’s helpers, good food and lots of happy families. Grand Starz hosted the annual Brown County Toys for Kids distribution day on Saturday, and over 500 parents picked up Christmas presents for more than 1,000 children throughout the day.
Pre-registered parents arrived at Grand Starz during their appointed time slot, where they parked and signed in. Inside the main building, they picked out stocking stuffers — smaller toys like baby dolls and cars — from rows of tables. Then they were escorted to the warehouse where they picked out age-appropriate gifts for their children from aisles upon aisles of donated toys.
Toys for Kids director Wanda Martin said 2017 was one of the 20-year-old organization’s best years ever. “It’s been a great day,” Martin said around midday. “It’s run real smoothly. We’re giving away more toys than we’ve ever given away.”
More than 200 volunteers assisted with the distribution. Some of them directed traffic in the overflowing Grand Starz parking lot, while others escorted parents through the toy warehouse and still others wrapped the presents that parents picked out.
Beth Pittman, a nurse at the Walker Cancer Center, volunteered at Toys for Kids for the first time this year. “This is so much fun,” Pittman said. “Everyone’s having a great time, and I wrapped people’s gifts for them. It feels really, really good.”
But in the end, it’s all about the families and children that Toys for Kids serves. Priscilla Hernandez used Toys for Kids for the first time this year to get presents for her 11-month-old daughter. “It’s really nice,” Hernandez said. “I found out about it through friends, and it’s really going to help.”
Martin made sure to thank everyone who makes Toys for Kids possible every year. “I need to say thank you to all of Brown County for supporting us, volunteering and donating,” she said. “It’s amazing, the Christmas spirit we see here today.
“Every year, I’m not sure it’s going to work out. I’m not sure if anyone’s going to show up, but they always do. I couldn’t do it without my volunteers.”
As soon as Christmas ends, Martin will begin shopping for the 2018 event.
The following organizations donated food for distribution day volunteers: Kemper’s BBQ, Buffalo Wild Wings, Brookshire’s, Cicis Pizza, Chicken Express, Cotton Patch Cafe, Cullen’s Hometown Market, Chili’s, Domino’s, Donut Palace, Dr Pepper, Early Donuts, KFC, Kroger, Little Caesar’s, La Botana, Prima Pasta, Smitty’s BBQ, The Sticks BBQ, Taco Casa, Underwood’s, United Supermarkets and Heff’s Burgers.