Toy drives bring cheer

By Julia Kline

This holiday season, the Office of Volunteer Programs is collaborating with numerous other clubs and organizations on campus to make the holidays brighter for area youth. They are sponsoring a toy drive to collect presents for needy children. This year, the toys are being collected between November 18 and December 7. Donations can be delivered to the Office of Volunteer Programs, located at 277 Illini Union from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The drive is an annual event that began in 2003 when the idea was proposed by a student employee of the Office of Volunteer Programs. The toy drive enjoyed great success in 2004. The organization managed to collect and distribute over 400 toys to area children’s organizations. This year, the organizations that will be receiving the toys from the drive include The Pavilion, The Marilyn Queller Child Care Center, Lutheran Social Services, The Center for Women in Transition, Champaign Urbana Special Recreation, and the Savoy Head Start Program.

Kathy Sims, the executive director of the Center for Women in Transition, expressed her gratitude at the gesture of goodwill. “Usually around Christmas, we have about 40 families that we are helping to support,” said Simms. “We appreciate it when a group gets together and makes sure our women and kids have a nice holiday.”

The Office of Volunteer Programs used several methods to garner publicity for their drive. Besides flyers for the toy drive that adorned much of campus, the organization set up donation boxes outside of K’s Merchandise and the Super Wal-Mart in Savoy. The Office of Volunteer Programs held a kick-off event before Thanksgiving break by providing a screening of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in the Courtyard Cafe. Viewers were asked to bring a donation of a toy as an entrance fee. To raise additional awareness, Stu Schaff, student organizer and junior in business, dressed up as a teddy bear and strolled on the quad handing out flyers and informing people about the drive.

Other organizations on campus have risen to the occasion and done their part to contribute to the drive. Sara Gibbs, sophomore in LAS, is a student worker at the Office of Volunteer Programs. Gibbs, co-organizer of the drive, said that even the university sports teams have gotten involved with the toy drive. “The hockey team volunteered to announce the toy drive and hand out flyers at their games before Thanksgiving break, and then collected toys at their games this weekend,” Gibbs said. Other organizations such as Sigma Phi Epsilon, The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and The Engineering Council are also donating toys to the drive.

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So far this year, the toy drive has collected over 100 toys for underprivileged children in our community. However, the Office of Volunteer Programs is expecting many more toys to be brought in by individuals and organizations. Gibbs encouraged “We’ve gotten an incredible amount of toys for children ages five to twelve, but we still need people to bring in gifts for children ages twelve to eighteen. Students can go to Walgreen’s or the bookstores, and pick up lotion sets, DVDs, perfume, portable CD players, Illini apparel, art supplies, or get gift certificates to stores or campus restaurants for the children of these ages,” Gibbs said. The organizers of the drive ask that toy prices be limited to 15 dollars and that the toys be brought in unwrapped. The organization hopes that with the support of individuals and clubs, they can reach their goal of 500 toys by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

Program Manager for the Office of Volunteer Programs, Amy Sponsler, feels that toy drive has made a positive impact this holiday season. “There are a lot of wonderful events that occur this time of year to benefit the community,” Sponsler said. “We are happy to provide the opportunity for students to be a part of that, as they are an important part of the local community too.”