Toys for Tots spreads Christmas cheer

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Toys for Tots spreads Christmas cheer
By Kelli Rollin
Toys, games, books and trinkets filled more than a dozen tables in the Pinnacle Bank Expo Center at Fonner Park on Thursday.
Karen Rathke, president of the Heartland United Way, which organizes the event, said they’ve been doing Toys for Tots with the Marines for about 17 years. The event helps Hamilton, Hall, Howard and Merrick County families in need, thanks to the Marines and other donations from the community.
Cammie Benson, public relations and volunteer coordinator for the Heartland United Way, helps organize the event. She said this year’s event helped nearly 1,000 families. Benson said this year, every child got four gifts.
People who came to shop registered and were approved to be on the Toys for Tots list.
“Not anybody can just come,” Benson said. “It’s people who actually need it.”
Shoppers come in with a list of kids they have to shop for. Each shopper is paired with a volunteer who holds a large plastic bag for the shopper to put their gifts in.
Sue Pirnie has been volunteering for about six years.
“I always feel there’s a need to help children out in the community,” Pirnie said about why she decides to volunteer.
Pirnie said Toys for Tots is exciting, especially because it helps kids have something they might not have if it weren’t for the event.
Tasha White of Aurora shopped for her daughter and two sons at Toys for Tots. White said her husband took off of work to watch their 2-year-old daughter, who has a congenital heart disease, so she could attend Toys for Tots. White said it’s her first time shopping at Toys for Tots, since she just heard about it this year.
“I’m grateful,” White said.
She said she gave up her goal to be a nurse so she could take care of her daughter. Her daughter can’t go to day care because she has to be very careful of any illness.
White said it’s amazing that there was so many items the Marines and community gave so everyone could have something under the tree. She said she was afraid her kids were going to go back to school after Christmas, hear about all the gifts the other kids got and then wonder why they didn’t get anything.
Hampton High School seniors also wanted to get in on the helping environment. Eleven students volunteered on Thursday and organized doing so. They originally organized a sock, hat and coat drive, which they were going to give to the homeless. When the weather didn’t allow, they organized helping at Toys for Tots and donating the items to the event.
Kiersten Dose was one of the seniors who volunteered on Thursday.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity to come and help the community,” Dose said.