’Twas the week before Christmas, and all through Grand Starz was a bustle of volunteers, presents and cars.
After months of preparation Brown County Toys for Kids held its annual toy distribution day on Saturday, handing out gifts to about 568 families for 1,428 children. About 200 volunteers came to Grand Starz, a Brownwood bingo and event venue, to help with parking, wrap presents and escort parents through the toy storage warehouse on site, where they picked out gifts for their kids.
The distribution began at 7:30 a.m. and lasted until the early evening. Wanda Martin, founder and director of the Toys for Kids program, said everything was going well. “Everything’s been working out really smooth,” she said. “All the volunteers … showed up on time, and we got started.”
When parents showed up to collect their toys, they signed in and then picked out two small stocking-stuffer gifts per child from a selection laid out on tables in the room. Then a helper “elf” escorted them into the adjacent building where the toys were stored. The parents picked out four toys for every child, then brought them back to the main building for wrapping.
For Martin, Saturday was the culmination of a long year of planning and buying. “It’s just amazing that it’s finally here,” she said. “It’s very heartwarming to see the volunteers enjoying it, and be so willing to be here. The majority of them are going to stay all day.
“The volunteers are smiling like they’re the ones getting help,” Martin said.
One group of volunteers was the Kinnin family, which has helped with Toys for Kids for five years now. Samuel Kinnin got the family started after volunteering with his school Key Club.
“I just really fell in love with it,” Kinnin said. “[My family] got involved with it the next year, and we’ve been helping ever since.”
He said this year the family was serving as “elves,” escorting families as they chose toys. “It’s cool to see their reactions to everything,” he said. “A lot of them are very overwhelmed by the selection and they are just really grateful for anything that they get.”
Local musicians Zakary Webb and Marlon Hamilton of TYME (Two Young Men Entertaining) volunteered with Toys for Kids to direct parking lot traffic. Webb said he’s been helping with the event for years. “I’ve actually been helping out with Toys for Kids since I was a freshman in high school,” Webb said. “We’re out there dancing, singing and having fun.”
Webb said he was volunteering alongside many members of his church, Abundant Life.
The beautiful Saturday weather added to the festive atmosphere as dozens more volunteers wrapped gifts in an outdoor tent, while a smoker cooked meat to help feed the volunteers nearby. Inside Grand Starz, Santa Claus walked up and down the rows of tables, talking to volunteers and families alike.
Because of Toys for Kids, Santa will be able to visit hundreds more Brown County families in need this Christmas.