For Berks Toys for Tots volunteers, the work doesn’t stop after the holidays

For hundreds of families struggling financially over the holidays, Toys for Tots of Berks County is a Christmas miracle.

But for Sue Koch, coordinator of Berks Toys for Tots, and a small team of dedicated volunteers, the work doesn’t stop when the thousands of donated toys they collect and distribute each year end up under the tree.

“I know Christmas is the time we’re thought of, but it’s really a 365 (day) commitment,” Koch said.

Koch said that although the annual campaign – when Toys for Tots begins accepting Christmas requests – does not usually start until early October, the group collects donations, responds to requests and gives toys to children in need throughout the year. ‘year.

Last year, Toys for Tots provided Christmas toy bundles to 700 families and 34 organisations, including Children’s Home of Reading and One Love Project.

“We helped over 11,000 kids last year get toys,” Koch said. “Each child receives three toys, a book, five Christmas stockings and a stuffed animal. That’s a lot of toys.

But that official number doesn’t include families who make informal toy requests, which Toys for Tots accepts at any time, Koch said.

“The motto of Toys for Tots is, ‘You can’t say no,'” Koch said. “If you have it, you give it away. Unofficially, I would say we helped over 12,000 children last year.

Koch said the organization often helps families who experience sudden tragedies like fires or other unforeseen circumstances.

Toys for Tots ran its 2019 campaign in a vacant space in the Berkshire Mall. (Courtesy of SUE KOCH)

“A lot of organizations and people in the community are well aware: if something happens in the community, if a family is displaced, call me,” Koch said. “I take care of your toys.”

Koch said these requests can be fulfilled with leftover donations from the previous Christmas, as well as drive-through events that take place throughout the year, including a bunny race around Easter for local pediatric wards. , collections at golf tournaments and Reading Royals games, and the annual East PA. Toy Run with hundreds of riders donating toys and riding from Classic Harley Davidson, canton of Bern, at the FirstEnergy stadium.

Last year’s Toy Run in early November generated about a quarter of the toys collected each year, Koch said.

“We try not to turn down (toys),” said Koch’s husband Patrick, who also volunteers with the organization. “We are getting creative with our storage space.”

Finding the space to operate each year is a particular challenge, Koch said.

Toys for Tots does not have a permanent office and must rely on local businesses to provide annual campaign headquarters, as well as storage space and toy drop-off sites.

“The hardest thing for us every year is trying to find a place to run our campaign,” Koch said. “It’s been monumental trying to find a space every year. One year we worked in a doctor’s waiting room.

Despite the difficulties, Koch said his core group of about eight volunteers ran successful campaigns in everything from vacant offices to an entire floor of the Vanity Fair Outlet.

Koch, who works full-time as a material handler, said she uses her warehousing experience to determine storage and distribution, and has worked with Toys for Tots for 12 years.

She said seeing the impact donations have on families, especially those who have suffered the loss of a spouse or similar tragedies, is worthwhile.

“I always tell my volunteers to put a little more into this one,” she said. “Look for something really nice. “When they come to pick up their toys, I can see their gratitude. I cried with more mothers than I cried with my own mother.

Nicolas LeVasseur, who dresses as Thor with the Philly Avengers cosplay and charity group, at a Toys for Tots bus trick event. (Courtesy of SUE KOCH)

To help

Those in need of toys, or looking to host fundraising events or donate space for a campaign can get in touch with Toys for Tots of Berks County using the “contact us” tab on their site. website.

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Raymond I. Langston