Mount Airy’s Debbie King was recently recognized for her work as coordinator of Toys for Tots, receiving an associate’s award from the Marine Corps League for “outstanding management of Toys for Tots.”
That management includes leading the annual Christmas effort in supplying toys for an ever-widening group of needy children in the area, despite growing challenges in collecting money and toys.
King has been a volunteer with the program for 12 years, the past five of which she has served as the director.
“We actually helped more families this year,” she said. The group helped 177 families — an increase over previous years — which meant getting presents for 503 children.
That, she explained, was just the numbers the group helped directly. Working with the Salvation Army and several other groups, she said “We helped 1,327 kids.”
Getting toys to kids has proven challenging in recent years, she said, for various reasons. In 2020, and to a lesser extent 2021, it was difficult because of COVID-19 restrictions. Those rules kept shopping crowds down, which meant donations they usually receive during the holidays from shoppers were down as well.
Then in 2022, she said another blow came when they lost their spot outside of the Walmart stores in Mount Airy and Elkin.
“Walmart changed its policy,” she said of how groups get permission to stand outside the stores and collect donations. With the loss of those days outside the local Walmart stores, visibility — and donations — dropped.
“As far as donations, we collected less, $2,000 less in 2022 than we did in 2021,” she said, adding that 2021 was already a down year because of COVID. “People coming out of Walmart, they tend to drop $10s and $20s, instead of single dollars, especially in Elkin.”
She was able to offset that by applying for grants — her agency received $1,000 recently from the Mount Airy Rotary Club.
And, King said she worked to get more businesses involved in collecting toys, which really seemed to pay dividends.
Toys for Tots often places large boxes around town at participating businesses, where customers and employees can drop new toys they’ve bought for the cause. This past year, she said her group picked up the boxes on Dec. 12.
“The donation of toys were a little slow coming in, but when we went to pick up the boxes on Dec. 12, the last day, I counted over 2,500 toys. That helped a lot, in places where I didn’t have have something a toy a child wanted, because I wasn’t able to buy enough toys, now I did because of those donations.”
She also credited a cruise-in at the National Guard Armory organized by Wes Arnder, with helping to bring in needed money and toy donations. Later, she said Arnder, along with Nick Biggs and Philip Brentle, helped tremendously in picking up the loaded toy boxes and helping them distribute the toys.
“Our Marines are very willing to help,” she said of the Marine Corps League. “But the youngest person who helps on a regular basis is 72.”
For now, she said she and others will be looking for additional ways to find partners for 2023, with the official campaign kick-off set for October, although her group will be helping with a May cruise-in to honor veterans at the National Guard Armory. “We’ll help with that, and ask for donations there. Instead of Christmas in July, we’ll make it Christmas in May.”
She is hoping more local businesses will get involved — “If every business in the chamber donated $25, I wouldn’t have to stand outside of Walmart, I wouldn’t have 70-year-olds standing outside in the cold, the rain, in the heat.” That figure, she said would meet virtually all of their needs.