Vounteers like Robin Mell give up their time to Toys for Tots for the stories they hear there.
“You walk through and you just hear the stories of what's happened to them and losing their jobs,” Mell said. “This is such a neat thing for them, they can come in and still get toys for their family.”
It’s her third year volunteering at the toy drive, which will provide 1,200 children with gifts this holiday season. The Jaycees-sponsored Toys for Tots giveaway kicked off at 9 a.m. Saturday morning. Some parents waited in line for two hours to get the first chance at shopping for their little ones.
Dozens of volunteers acted as personal shoppers to help families wade through rows of used gifts, most selling for a couple quarters or so. For Mell, it was an opportunity to give a holiday gift that she remembers so fondly as a child.
“I remember growing up and it was Christmas, it was best time of the year, all the presents underneath the tree,” she said. “I think every kid should wake up to Christmas like that.”
The support from the community was strong this year, as shown by the shelves stocked with used toys at the event. About 80 donation bins were scattered across La Crosse, and several had to be dropped off repeatedly as they continued to fill up.
The support is appreciated by families shopping there – volunteers said they could hear it in their voices.
"It's pretty overwhelming, they're very grateful, and I’m glad that we have this opportunity to help put a smile on their kids' faces for Christmas,” said Jaycees member Alex Lueck.
As Mell helped parents sift through toys, she listened to each of their stories. Some, she'll remember for years to come - and those are the ones that will inspire her to keep coming back to Toys for Tots.
"It still gives me goose bumps today and still there and listen to some of those stories and how they can make their Christmas still special.”