Toys for Tots under way
Although retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, Kris Fowler is on a mission: Toys for Tots.
Fowler and wife Becky are chaplains at the Watauga County jail, where, some seven years ago, they were informed of a need.
“The sheriff at the time told us of a need,” Fowler said. “So, we did a toy run and raised basically $1,400, got some (Christmas) gifts and were able to give them to the children of the inmates.”
The gifts were given to inmates, who would then give them to their children. “And it’s grown from there,” Fowler said.
Since the first High Country Toy Run, in which a motorcycle and classic car rallies are held to raise money for gift-giving, the Fowlers have noticed a dramatic increase in participating families on the receiving end.
“Our first year, we helped 53 kids,” Becky Fowler said. “Last year was 563. This year, we’re already on target for over 600.”
About three years ago, the Fowlers were approached by the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, asking if they’d be interested in organizing a local effort.
The program helps ensure that children in need have a happy Christmas. Since the program’s establishment in 1947, Marines have collected and distributed more than 402 million toys. On average, 15 million toys are distributed annually, helping approximately 6.3 million children in need.
“For two years, we turned it down,” Kris Fowler said, “because we had been doing the Toy Run for five years. We didn’t want it to be a conflict of interest. Finally, they asked us one more time and said, ‘Hey, look, it’s a perfect marriage.’”
And the honeymoon’s been just as pleasing. While Toys for Tots limits donations to toys only, proceeds from the High Country Toy Run round up kids’ necessities, like clothing and cold weather gear.
With Becky serving as program coordinator, the local effort has, as of press time, assembled gift bags – filled with an assortment of toys and clothing, depending on the child’s needs – for 700 High Country children.
The sizable shopping bags will be given to parents to dole out under the tree come Christmastime.
“We get names in Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties,” Kris said. “We have (donation) boxes set up throughout the area. The toys and proceeds stay within the High Country 100 percent.”
“It’s really a community effort,” Becky said. “Lots and lots of businesses, churches and community organizations are coming together to make it work.”
Making it work means purchasing toys with available funds, wrapping those toys, collecting donations and more, and the Fowlers are always on the lookout for volunteers. They’re also looking for financial help, so they can purchase toys and clothing for an ever-increasing number of kids in need.
“That would be huge right now,” Kris said. “We don’t want to leave any of these kids out.”
Monetary donations can be made payable and sent to Marine Corps Toys for Tots (for toys) or High Country Toy Run (for clothing) at High Country Toy Run, 405 Willow Trail, Boone, N.C. 28607.
Toys for Tots donation boxes can be found at area businesses, including Boone Mall, CVS Pharmacy, Big Lots, Dollar General, T.J. Maxx, High Country Honda, VFW, Moose Lodge, Kmart and Modern Toyota. Donations will be accepted through Dec. 21, and donation boxes are available for any business wishing to participate.
“It’s wonderful,” Kris said of the program. “Our feeling is that we want to help the parents provide for their children.”
For more information on the local Toys for Tots effort, call (828) 265-0950. For more on Toys for Tots, visit http://www.toysfortots.org.