With Thanksgiving here, area organizations have already started taking donations for Brown County Toys for Kids.

Parents seeking assistance this holiday season can sign up from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Grand Starz at 2323 Belle Plain and distribution day is set for Dec. 22, but area organizations such as the Brown County Chapter of Jeep Nation have already began raising money and toys for needy children.

“We have volunteers that used to use the program and now they’ve grown into volunteering for the program and they are very appreciative,” said Wanda Martin, who founded the program in 1997 along with her now deceased husband Dennis Thacker. 

Martin considers Toys for Kids as her family’s legacy. She and Dennis began the program in 1997, running it out of the old Walgreens location inside Heartland Mall, then moved it to a few different locations until Martin purchased Grand Starz, which hosts various bingo nights and is Toys for Kids’ official home. Since its founding more than 20 years ago, the annual event has become a tradition in Brown County with more than 200 volunteers coming out to assist each year.

“It’s a wonderful cause. A lot of kids would not get Christmas if it was not for this,” volunteer Karen Baker said. “They wouldn’t get anything. There are a lot of them. More than you would think … There are some kids that are appreciative just to get anything. When we first started, we didn’t even have new toys. It was all used toys.”

Initially, volunteers would sort used, and the occasional new toy, into bags and guessed what children wanted based on their age. In 21 years the program has become much more sophisticated with parents now having the ability to make requests. Although officials ask parents to avoid high-dollar items such as popular electronics, they say requests can be made. Toys for Kids officials said the most requested items each year are bicycles and said bike requests must be made in advance and bike distribution is based on a lottery.

“The community has grown with us. We get a lot more community support than we did in 1997,” Baker said. “… We would put them all out in one day and now we have a place to keep them thanks to Wanda.”

Baker said the best donations are cash donations because it allows the organization more flexibility when it comes to making bulk toy purchases. Cash also comes in handy for when they receive a special request and can retrieve a requested toy.

“We will take donations all the way to the day. We will never turn down a donation whether it’s toys or money. A lot of people have kids and they want to be able to show the giving season so they have their children pick out the toys because they know what kids want. It helps the kids learn the season and it’s for giving.”

To make a donation or to find out more information to volunteer or distribution day, contact Toys for Kids at (325) 646-6822.