Both Toys for Tots and the Wishing Tree programs made Christmas much brighter for hundreds of children.
Every year, U.S. Marine veteran Harry Hines shakes his head in awe over the Toys for Tots donations.
“This program has outdone itself this year,” said Hines, wearing a bright red blazer and red and gold garrison cap.
Volunteers from the community, Naval Air Station Fallon and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve handed out 886 boxes of toys on Saturday to residents from a three-county area: Churchill, Lyon and northeastern Nye, which includes Gabbs.
People had lined up in the rain before 8:30 a.m. — 90 minutes before the doors opened — at the side doors of The Beverage Mart to pick up their toys.
“We exceeded cash donations and especially on toys,” said Hines, who helps coordinate the program with program director Cindy Munoz. “The toy run (Iron Order Motorcycle Club of Nevada) was a big success, and we had donations from the Lights of Christmas. Everyone in the community has been very supportive.”
Munoz said she was excited for the day to hand toys arrived.
“Every year we keep growing,” she said. “We haven’t helped this many kids in four years. The volunteers make it happen too. They are real awesome people to work with. It’s like one big family.”
HM2 Holly Stahmer, a hospital corpsman originally from Montana, stood in front of a long line of boxes. This was her first year helping with the program.
“Toys for Tots is very important for the Navy to support,” Stahmer said. “This is a good organization to help kids get presents.”
HM Merly Matzleo also helped deliver turkey dinners to senior citizens last month as part of the Meals on Wheel program on Thanksgiving. She also enjoyed Saturday’s event.
“I love children. This is awesome,” she said after delivering a box of toys to the check-in area. “The base also has an Angel Tree, and we help with that.”
She said the Angel Tree is similar to the Wishing Tree, which has names of children hanging from the limbs who need toys.
Likewise, Lance Cpl. John Ezzell said it’s satisfying to see the community helping those in need.
“With the help of other services and civilian volunteers, the program comes together in the rural areas,” he said.
Connie, who declined to give her last name, has three children ages 2 to 7 participating in the program for the first time.
“I’m not working so we have only one income in the family,” she said. “The gifts are great.”
Connie said the community is very giving at this time of year.
Melinda, who also gave just her first name, said she appreciates the assistance.
“Toys for Tots is great because it helps out a lot of families,” she said.
Wishing Tree, with help provided by the Independent Pioneer Telephone Association (CC Communications) for 21 years, handed out its toys on Monday.
Shannon Ernst, director of Churchill County Social Services, said this year’s program provided toys for 279 children and 93 families.
More than one week ago, the Wishing Tree program could not fulfill wishes for 11 children, but the community pulled through, said Dawn Ballard of CC Communications.
“Fallon is a last-minute town,” she said. “Until the final cry is given out, people realize the need to give, and the spirit of giving comes alive.”
Ballard said donations began strong but then took a drop until last week.
Ernst said Churchill County Social Services screens recipients based on their household income and determines eligibility. She said many individuals and businesses enabled Social Services to meet its goal.
Phillip and Valerie Johnson said they were thankful to receive toys for their 2-year-old son.
“This is the first
year we had to do anything like this,” said Valerie Johnson. “We have had a hard year. My husband was in a car accident and out of work for about 7 to 8 months.”
Phillip Johnson said the local welfare office suggested the program to them.
“As tight as things are, we checked out this program, and now he have a Christmas for him,” he said.
Valerie Johnson said the additional toys for their son is a blessing.
“I’m thankful for our community,” she added.