A year ago, the school district’s gift-gathering campaign for the DFW Toys for Tots drive turned up more than 16,000 toys and $15,500 in donations – blowing away expectations.
For this year’s toy-drop-off event Wednesday, which kicks off with a parade at the Center for the Performing Arts, organizers expect stockpiles of toys but aren’t focused on breaking records. Their more modest aims include adding more entertainment – the parade, for one -- and creating more space to give drive-up donors a reason to stay longer.
“This year it’s more about creating a tradition,” said Flo Torres, director of the center. “We wanted to create the ambiance of giving.”
Which isn’t to say that the charity machine created last year hasn’t been in high gear this year.
Donation boxes were set out at each district facility, and most of the 41 school campuses created their own projects to gather toys from throughout the Mansfield school community, officials said.
“This year we haven’t had a goal,” said Lynn Wilkie, the district event planner for the center and coordinator of the Mansfield school effort for Toys for Tots -- both the toy collection and the entertainment by school bands and other groups and departments. “We’re not telling them what to do. We’re just saying, you guys just do what you want, make it fun and send us pictures of what you’re doing.”
Still, she expects some friendly competition. For example, the bonus for the high school that collects the most toys is a spot in the parade, which starts at 5 p.m. It will wind through – and stay within – the center’s parking lot, 1110 W. Debbie Lane.
Other newcomers to the event include food trucks, children’s sporting activities and craft building, indoor performances and fire trucks and fire safety clowns.
A lineup of choirs, cheerleaders and other performers is set to start at 5:15 p.m. and every 15 minutes afterward until the event ends at 9:30 or 10 p.m., Wilkie said. Live reindeer and face painting will be among the things to see and do. At Methodist Mansfield Medical Center’s booth, staff will check heart rates and put mini-casts on kids’ fingers, Wilkie said.
“Each school leadership group – like the National Honor Society and student council – will man a booth for their high school,” said Wilkie, whose task last year was getting the non-school public and businesses involved. “One high school will help kids write letters to Santa.” Others will make balloon animals and ornaments with kids.
“The thing that warmed up my heart the most is how the students are so willing and excited to help others,” Wilkie added. “They want to volunteer; they want to bring in toys. They have this camaraderie -- they’re not competing to win, they’re competing to make it fun.”
The DFW-based campaign is part of the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program, which collects new, unwrapped toys during the last three months of the year to give as Christmas gifts to needy children. Since its founding in 1947, the program has collected 102 million toys valued at $750 million, according to the DFW program’s website.
Torres came up with the idea of working with Toys for Tots last year. Having previously worked in the entertainment business putting on festivals and concerts, she had the experience to do it. Yet she was overwhelmed by the community’s response.
“Never underestimate the power of the Mansfield community,” she said. “I have done toy drives and never seen anything like this.”
But she has managed it differently this year, especially the rounding up of each school’s collected toys. Last year, school buses picked up the toys and took them to the performance center parking lot, where people were driving up and dropping off the toys they had bought for the campaign.
“It was a neat visual, because we had these buses loaded down with toys from floor to ceiling,” said district spokesman Richie Escovedo.
But rather than unload the buses at the center, officials made the decision to send the buses on to the Toys for Tots warehouse in Arlington. This year’s shuttling has been made more efficient – district trucks have been picking up toys from the campuses and taking them directly to a school district warehouse for offloading, freeing space and resources for officials to focus more on keeping its crowd.
“We wanted people in the community to bring toys and stay,” Escovedo said. “We had to have something to make it a fun thing.”