Toys for Tots and So Much More
Nine years ago, Kris and Becky Fowler started the High Country Toy run with the intention of brightening an already gloomy holiday season.
With the help of chaplains at the Watauga County Detention Center, the Fowler family began collecting toys for the children of local inmates.
The first year, they collected enough toys to bring cheer to 54 children.
As time went by, and through Kris Fowler’s service as a U.S. Marine, the family joined forces with Toys for Tots, and the numbers of those served locally exploded — much like the now-overflowing stockings of local kids on Christmas morning.
Last year, the combined fundraisers helped secure enough toys and clothing items for 884 children in Watauga, Avery and Ashe counties, and volunteers now have their sights set on the 1,000 mark.
By teaming up with Toys for Tots, Becky Fowler said that freed up proceeds generated from the High Country Toy Run to focus on more practical items, like clothing, footwear and other necessities.
“It’s been an incredible partnership,” Fowler said. “The number of children serviced has expanded greatly.”
Fowler said efforts have also been bolstered by a $2,500 grant from Blue Ridge Electric.
For the second year in a row, the joint operation is currently operated in a space next to T.J. Maxx at Boone Mall, which graciously donated a temporary lease, Fowler said.
White donation boxes are currently set up at retail locations and businesses throughout Watauga County, including Boone Mall, LifeStore, Golden Corral, Bandana’s Bar-B-Que & Grill, K-Mart, Wendy’s and several area churches.
Toys, jackets, boots and winter wear will be then be sorted and wrapped at the fundraiser’s headquarters, before parents pick up the gifts by the end of this week.
In the meantime, volunteers will work furiously to finish wrapping the gifts on time.
While Fowler said she would not personally see the beaming faces of area children on Christmas morning, the end result is more than worth the sometime thankless effort.
“Just knowing we are giving a child a Christmas who might not have one makes it worthwhile,” she said.
As a former recipient, volunteer Amy Hodge said she knows firsthand how the High Country Toy Run and Toys for Tots can save a Christmas from complete despair.
It’s one of the reasons she was spending her Monday morning wrapping presents.
“I was one of the kids that got toys from Toys for Tots,” Hodge said. “Just knowing the kids will have a merry Christmas is why I do it … to see the expressions on the kids’ faces.”
The items collected are not your typical hand-me-downs or bargain-bin stocking stuffers. All items collected are brand new and quality purchases.
“Most of the clothes received come from places like Belk and Old Navy,”Fowler said. “I tell volunteers to shop like they are shopping for their own children.”
The volunteers who help collect donations and wrap presents come from all walks of life, Fowler said, mentioning helpers from a local hospice organization and a group of women from a church in Maryland.
“We have some people who stop by and just want to volunteer a few hours to wrap presents,” she said.
The influx of volunteers also helps meet a growing, yet troubling need.
“Every year, the need is growing,” Fowler said.
“It’s just like a baby boom,” Hodge added. “Every year, it’s more and more kids.”