Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
There is a great and long history behind Woodward County Toy Giveaway.
But perhaps the best way to define the program is through the people it has touched, said one of its coordinators, David Hughes.
Hughes, of Woodward, is co-owner of Peak Fitness and has been helping coordinate the Woodward Toy Giveaway for the last 31 years.
The program allows families in need to “shop” at a special location filled with donated new toys and items.
The program started in 1981 at the beginning of the oil bust by a men’s group at New Horizon Methodist Church. At that time, the men collected gently used toys and distributed a couple of pickup truck loads to local needy families, Hughes said.
Since then, it has grown to support anywhere from 600 to 800 needy children and their families in Woodward County, he said.
“I had a very interesting occurrence two weeks ago,” Hughes said. “A lady who I knew through previous job called me and said, ‘I’d like to make a donation because I have had something happen that would allow me to give back.’”
Hughes said the donor, who wished to remain anonymous, had, in years past, shopped for her children through the Woodward County Toy Giveaway and later, for her grandchildren when her daughter died.
After setting up a meeting time and place, Hughes said the woman handed him a check.
“She met me and handed me a check for $1,000,” Hughes said. “She said she just wanted to give back after all those years when she shopped for her kids.”
For her part, the woman said the amount of the check she offered was paltry compared to the blessing she got from the program.
“It was ironic that my son was born in 1981 and I was serviced by the toy giveaway for the first time in 1983,” she said. “The $1,000 is meager compared to what this service did for us. Emotionally, it meant a lot because otherwise my children would not have had some of the Christmases they had.”
For Hughes, that story illustrates the meaning of experiencing Christ through giving and then how that giving finds its way back around again.
He believes it is why so many other Woodward community members continue to support the, now quite large gift program, he said.
December 15, the Woodward County Toy Giveaway shopping day set for this year, will mark the 32nd year the program has been in existence, Hughes said.
Already, donations for new purchased toys and financial donations are coming in, Hughes said.
The Toy Giveaway works by first, coordinating through the Department of Human Services.
In this way, families who are in need remain anonymous, Hughes said.
“DHS sends the letters to those families, so we don’t even do that,” Hughes said. “So it stays really confidential.”
At that point, the family is informed by letter of the time and location of the shopping day.
On that day, the family is presented with a card that has a number of points, which represent toy spending “dollars” and they simply go shopping, Hughes said.
The environment is just like a store and provides the same Christmas shopping experience that one might get going to a local shop, he said.
Except for one thing.
“I am always amazed at how peaceful, quiet and orderly it always is,” he said. “You might think it could be like the Black Fridays you have seen, but it is always very quiet and respectful.”
The program allows one parent of a family to go through and shop for the children. If there are six or more children, they allow two parents to shop.
“This is why it is different, a bit, from other charity programs. Because the parent can buy their child what they know they want,” Hughes said.
With the sheer size of the program now, Hughes said it would be impossible for one group to handle all of the demands of setting up, organizing, stocking and even running the store.
“Now it has become a community wide effort,” he said.
Volunteers are responsible for creating the store environment and do all of the work in a 36 hour window, Hughes said. This year, store set up begins on December 14, the Saturday before the shopping day, which always happens on a Sunday, he said.
Many youth organizations, including Boy Scouts, members of the Honor Society, local sororities, and schools participate in the set up, as well as local adults, he said.
On shopping day, Hughes said volunteers who are over 18-years-old, are needed to help staff the store and help shoppers.
“We have to have them 18 years old so they are mature enough to keep names of families confidential,” he said.
For those interested in purchasing toys or items for the store, Hughes said items for teens are difficult to find as well as items for infants and so the store is in need of them.
While sports balls are usually a hit, Hughes said the store has a carryover of sports balls this year. He also asked that extremely violent video games be left off of the shopping list.
For those who would like to donate toys, donate monetarily or volunteer contact Hughes at 254-0360 or mail contributions to Woodward Co. Toy Giveaway, P.O. Box 1024 Woodward, Oklahoma 73802.
“There are a lot of families who take their children out shopping for this program so they can remind their kids that some people don’t have it that good,” Hughes said.