Local toy drives provide gifts to kids for holidays

Three community organizations are coming together to provide toys and gift opportunities for local children and promote the spirit of giving to others during the holiday. These organizations are the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, the University’s Office of Volunteer Programs and the Crisis Nursery.

Each program is locally based, has been going on for several years and always welcomes more student and community volunteers to help out.


The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree

The Angel Tree is a part of the Salvation Army, and along with Toys for Tots, the Angel Tree hosts a toy drive each year in Marketplace Mall. This year, it began on Nov. 21, and will continue until Dec. 16, with a toy dropbox in front of Bergner’s.

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“On the 16th, (we) will open it up to parents that have pre-registered and they can shop for what their kids would like,” said Barb Davies, volunteer coordinator for Angel Tree.

Davies has served as the Angel Tree volunteer coordinator for eight years, and she enjoys bringing volunteers together to bolster the community’s existing charity organizations.

“My son is now 25, and when he was a little boy, like 2 or 3 years old, I remember the Angel Tree being (in existence),” Davies said. “So it’s been going on for quite a while.”

This is the Champaign branch of the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, which is a nationwide organization aiming to provide toys and gifts to children during the holidays, focusing on those who are in difficult situations.

Students and community members can help out by donating unwrapped toys or signing up to volunteer on the Angel Tree’s online volunteer form.


Office of Volunteer Programs

Here on campus, the Office of Volunteer Programs is holding its own toy drive to commemorate OVP’s 25th anniversary.

The toy drive has been ongoing each year since 2001, according to the Illinois News Bureau. This year, it began on Dec. 1 and will last until Dec. 15.

“We have about 17 (gift collection) boxes throughout campus, and we have at least five different categories’ worth of volunteer opportunities for students to help with the event,” said Alicia Robinson, OVP graduate assistant and doctoral student in Education.

Some of these locations include the Illini Union, the Native American House, the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, the College of Business and the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

OVP also hosted a Holiday Toy Drive Performance on Nov. 12 at the Union as a kickoff event before the drive.

The goal of the toy drive is to collect 250 toys or more to give to three local charities: Salt and Light Ministries, Habitat for Humanity and Cunningham Children’s Home.

A list of acceptable items as well as a volunteer registration form is available on the OVP website.


Crisis Nursery Children’s Holiday Shop

Instead of a traditional toy drive, the Crisis Nursery holds an annual event for children to shop for gifts for their family. This event, which is in its 22nd year, began Dec. 6 and will continue until Saturday at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana.

“When (the children) arrive to the store, they have their shopping list already filled out — their parent or their guardian, someone helps them fill that out prior,” said Heather Wienke, special events coordinator at the Crisis Nursery. “Then they are placed with a volunteer, and that volunteer helps them walk through the shop and do their shopping.”

All items available are priced affordably, between $2 and $8. The volunteer helps the child budget his or her list with the money their guardian gave them.

Because the event has been going on for decades in the Champaign-Urbana community, it has turned into a yearly practice for some families.

“It’s a huge family tradition. We have volunteers now that are like, ‘I came and shopped here as a kid,’” Wienke said. “There are families that we’ve seen for 10, 15 years come in and shop.”

Further, Weinke wanted to clarify that the Holiday Shop welcomes all children, not only those affiliated with the Crisis Nursery. This is the organization’s second-largest fundraising event — it raised $33,000 last year, with this year’s goal set at $35,000 to $40,000.

“The kids always leave full of pride with the items that they’ve picked out all on their own,” Wienke said. “Hopefully, the goal is (the kids) have an understanding that it’s just as great to give as it is to receive.”

Reema can be reached at abiakar2