Distribution day for Toys for Kids is just over two weeks away, and the family-run charity is in need of donations of toys and cash.
The “magnificent day” will be Saturday, Dec. 21, said Wanda Martin, who was Wanda Thacker when she and her late husband, Dennis, and their family started the charity in 1997.
Distribution day is the day families who have signed up will come to the Grand Starz, 2323 Belle Plain, and pick out toys for their children at no charge. The Grand Starz is a Bingo hall, event rental center and headquarters for Toys for Kids.
“We’re way behind in donations,” Martin said. The biggest number of requests are for bicycles, and good used electronics and gaming systems are also among items needed.
The age group Toys for Kids is most behind on is ages 9 to 12, as well as bicycles, Martin said.
Last year, Toys for Kids provided toys to 1,472 children representing 570 families.
There are several activities scheduled that will benefit Toys for Kids including:
• Saturday, Dec. 7 — The Blanket Volunteer Fire Station will be at Big Lots from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to collect donations of toys and cash.
• Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7-8 and Dec. 14-15 — The Brownwood Fire Department will be at Walmart, also collecting toys and cash.
• Sunday, Dec. 8 — the Street Dreamers car club will be at Brookshire’s collecting bicycles.
• Wednesday, Dec. 11 — Pull pork sandwich lunches will available at the Grand Starz from11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cost is $8, although additional donations will be welcome. A hover board, Apple airpods and a fire stick will be given away as door prizes.
Now remarried to Scott Martin, Wanda, Scott and other family members including the three daughters born to Wanda and Dennis Thacker keep the organization alive and thriving.
Beginning Toys for Kids “was Dennis’ big idea,” Martin said of her late husband. “He remembered seeing hard times when he was young. Everything about him was all about kids and kids getting what they wanted.”
After Dennis Tacker died in 2006 of cancer, “me and his girls promised to keep it going,” Martin said.
“His girls” are daughters Stacee Hetzel, Carrie Walters and Krissi Prince. Martin also named nieces and nephews who are involved in keeping Toys for Kids going — Audrey Smith, Emily Cross and twins Inn and Alec Harris.
Distribution day will be a day in which about 200 volunteers descend on the Grand Starz, performing tasks including directing traffic, helping families pick out toys in a building adjacent to the Grand Starz and then wrapping the toys. “I just can’t tell you the family I have acquired through my volunteers,” Martin said.
Distribution day is “a very organized chaos,” Martin said. “It goes so well. You can’t imagine how many people can come in, go shopping and get their toys wrapped all in one day.”
Toys for Kids is “a passion of love,” Martin said.
When asked what motivates her family to keep Toys for Kids alive after 20 years, Martin said, “Oh my gosh, if you could just see the people … if you saw the people carrying out massive amounts of toys already wrapped … this is my Christmas. This is all I want for Christmas. My girls are as passionate about this as I am, and so are my volunteers.”
Hetzel, one of the three daughters born to Dennis and Wanda Thacker, said via text message, “What does Toys for Kids mean to me? It’s everything to our family. We all come together and work as a family (some blood relatives and some not, but all family) to accomplish this huge task each year.”
Hetzel said she and her sisters learned growing up that it’s important to give and help others. Her parents were “perfect examples of this,” Hetzel said.
“They both worked hard and always helped people in need. I really don’t know how the idea of Toys for Kids came about but I’m so thankful it did. Looking back from that first year (of Toys for Kids) to today — wow, what huge changes have been made, all for the better. Now parents that need the service have the opportunity to sign up and personally pick out the gifts on distribution day (Dec. 21).
“You get to help them individually and listen to their stories. Some shed tears, you get hugs and lots of gratitude. But without the amazing community that we live in, none of this would be possible.”
Hetzel said she’s been asked many times why her families continues the charity.
“There are many correct answers, but mainly it’s because this is what Christmas is to me,” Hetzel said. “It’s about others. And as crazy as this sounds, it’s a lot of fun. If anyone is there on distribution day, we laugh so much and enjoy each other’s company.
“My family and greatest of friends all join together and even though we are exhausted, it’s honestly a day I look forward to all year. The only thing that saddens me is thinking of all the people that have been such a huge part that are no longer with us. Obviously my dad, but we all know that’s his presence is with us that day for sure. He’s smiling from above. This was his baby and we’ll continue it as long as we can.”