Toys bring cheers to area children | NevadaAppeal.com

Toys bring cheers to area children

Steve Ranson
LVN Editor Emeritus

Families received a Merry Christmas thanks to the generosity of residents who live in the Lahontan Valley and from the dedication of volunteers helping both the Wishing Tree and Toys for Kids (Toys for Tots) programs.

Wishing Tree handed out its toys to a number of families on Thursday. As the economy grows and more people have found work, the number of families requesting toys has also decreased, said Dawn Ballard, a human resources generalist with CC Communications and one of the organizers of the Wishing Tree program.

"We had 38 families, and we could've done 300 kids easily," Ballard said. "We had more than enough."

Just one year ago, Wishing Tree handed out toys and clothing to 143 families who were adopted by community members. Ballard said Banner Churchill Community Hospital sponsored about 40 children this year.

Churchill County Social Services and the Independent Telecommunications Pioneer Association sponsor Wishing Tree with toys and clothes. For the past eight years, the Nevada Army National Guard armory on East Richards Street stores big bags of toys and serves as the distribution center.

"We receive great support from them all the time," Ballard said.

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Last year, she said the engineer company commander at the Fallon armory submitted several days of soldiers who fell within the guidelines of Wishing Tree. This year, Ballard said the Guard didn't submit any names.

Both Ballard and Holly Meader, office specialist and program coordinator with Churchill County Social Services, said the stronger economy is one good indicator that things are doing well. Meader said some families who received bags for many years may now have children who are too old for the program, or one of the parents may have remarried, which would put the family in a different income bracket. She said the county agency still receives new requests each year.

Eligibility for both programs is based on family income. Shannon Ernst, director of Social Services, said once families reached a certain income level for Wishing Tree, they are referred to Toys for Toys. The request list for Wishing Tree was modest. Ballard said parents requested cars, trucks, dinosaurs, unicorns and clothes. Parents give pant and shirt sizes of their children to Social Services in early fall.

"We always have extra donations," Ballard said, "so we 'fluff' the package or add items to the requests."

Ballard made a little girl smile during Thursday's distribution when she walked back inside the drill floor area and returned with a doll to give to the youngster.

Toys for Kids also received many toys, gift cards and cash donations this year despite a small change in its mission.

"That's pretty good considering we're the Marine Corps League's Toys for Kids," said Chris Hansberry, who has coordinated the local program since 2015.

Several thousand new toys and clothes were donated this year to the program, which serves Churchill County and two other three counties. Volunteers with the Toys for Kids program distributed toys over a five-day period last week at the Oats Park Gym.

Hansberry said the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve administers the Toys for Tots program, but since the Fallon area missed its deadline, Hansberry said the duty to collect and distribute toys then fell upon the local Marine Corps League.

"We didn't want to let families down, so we continued with the mission," he said.

Hansberry said the delay occurred because he was going through tests on his neck, which will require surgery next year.

For two to three days a week, the Marine Corps parked one of its big olive-drab trucks parked in front of the Fallon Walmart or downtown to collect donations. Hansberry said the truck and volunteers were also at Lights of Christmas. Like Wishing Tree, the number of applicants was down from previous years as was the donation of toys and cash. Hansberry said volunteers took about $4,000 in cash donations to by about $4,000 in toys.

"Most requests were filled," said Hansberry, who served as a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps. "I want to chalk that up to a better economy. We haven't had as many requests this year, which is a good thing. People are doing better and able to provide for their children."

Hansberry said the program had many volunteers helping at the different stages of collection. He thanked Iron Order Motorcycle Club for their annual toy run earlier this month and volunteers from Naval Air Station Fallon and the Marine Corps. Volunteers handed out the toys at the Oats Park Gym. Hansberry said the city was gracious to allow the Marine Corps League to use the facility for storing the toys and then handing them out.

Because Fallon is a small area, Hansberry said collecting toys and money is a yearlong project. The Marine Corps League sets up events ranging from setting up a tent at events such as the Cantaloupe Festival to having fundraising events that includes a golf tournament. Next year, Hansberry said the Marine Corps League may sponsor rifle and pistol matches.