It was a time of profound good will, laughter and repeated wishes of “Merry Christmas” as nearly 500 families gathered Saturday at the Toys for Kids distribution day, leaving with presents at no charge for nearly 1,300 children.
“We always cry. It’s happy tears,” Toys for Kids co-founder Wanda Martin said as she stood with other family members outside Grand Starz on Belle Plain, a Bingo hall that is also the headquarters for Toys for Kids.
Dozens of volunteers worked throughout the day at Grand Starz, helping with tasks including directing traffic as families arrived and parked, opening the door and greeting families, shepherding them through the process of selecting toys and wrapping the toys at wrapping stations.
Thanks to the well-orchestrated work of the volunteers, Wanda Martin and her family members, the massive operation that is the Toys for Kids distribution day runs smoothly.
“It’s a blessing,” Curtis Sonstegard of Brownwood said of Toys for Kids after he and his wife, Lena, selected toys for their children.
The Sonstegards have four children — three boys ages 9, 6 and 3, and a girl, 2. They are expecting another child.
Volunteers including Madison Brooks, a Brownwood High School freshman, and her brother Keedan, a Brownwood Middle School seventh-grader, had helped guide the Sonstegards through the selection process inside a warehouse next to Grand Starz.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Stacee Hetzel, one of three daughters of Wanda Thacker Martin and the late Dennis Thacker. “I can’t describe the whole thing in a sentence. It’s so big. The whole thing is just massive. It takes so many people to put the whole thing on.
“For it to run smoothly and successful — there’s just no word. It just blows me away every year. It’s very satisfying. Once you see them and they come through, and you just see how grateful they are, especially when they see something that’s exactly what they wanted. We try to fulfill all of their wants and have great things for them to choose from. It’s just very satisfying.”
Hetzel said she is exhausted when the Toys for Kids distribution day ends.
“It’s a good tired,” Hetzel said. “I’ve been tired from working many hours, but this is a good tired. It is fun. I look around and all my cousins are in there working. My sisters are here — cousins, sisters, husbands, mom, all of them, they’re all here. It’s what makes this day fun. It’s just a rewarding day. And there’s little things that happen every year."
Wanda Martin was Wanda Thacker when she and her late husband, Dennis, and their family started the charity in 1997.
Now remarried to Scott Martin, Wanda, Scott and other family members keep the organization alive and thriving.