Sometimes, a toy becomes a lot more than just something for a child to play with.
On Dec 4, as the Blue Jackets hosted the Florida Panthers at Nationwide Arena, the team asked fans to bring new toys to donate as part of a holiday toy drive to benefit the Salvation Army.
Over 6,000 toys were collected at the arena, OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rinks, FS Ohio Blue Line stores and at the studio of toy drive partner, WBNS-10TV.
But, the spirit of giving didn’t stop when the toys were dropped off.
Last week, volunteers from the Blue Jackets organization, including the Lady Jackets, contributed the collected toys to the over 20,000 items that were then given to 6,000 central Ohio families in need at the Salvation Army’s Christmas Cheer program.
At Christmas Cheer, volunteers build a “toy shop” where all the donated items are carefully sorted by children’s ages and sex. The adults are escorted by a volunteer, who serves as a personal shopper as they pick out toys for their children to open on Christmas morning.
After shopping, each family receives a food package that provides the fixings for a Christmas dinner.
Throughout the aisles, holiday greetings are heard happily and often.
“To me, this is Christmas,” said Krista Edwards, Director of Social Services for the Salvation Army about the event that dates back as far as the 1930’s.
Edwards said this “Christmas” is possible in part by the contribution of the Blue Jackets.
In addition to the toys collected from the toy drive, the organization brought toys they collected internally, and there were more willing Blue Jackets volunteers than spots available.
One of those volunteers was Diana Davidson, wife of Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson. This was her second year participating in Christmas Cheer.
“It’s so rewarding, it brings us such joy to actually see the people come and get the toys,” Davidson said. “I can’t thank (the fans who donated) enough. I want them to know who they’re helping here, and that what they’re doing is wonderful.”
And the giving didn’t stop there. This year’s event helped support others who are also working to amplify the cycle of giving back.
One of the families at Christmas Cheer was Yolanda Bush, who was shopping for her four young children.
Bush is working towards a career in counseling those who battle substance abuse.
“I am working to be able to help other people - that’s my dream job,” Bush said. “My family struggles with substance abuse and I’ve seen it take its toll.”
But as Bush works towards the certifications she needs, she says times are tough, and employment opportunities are limited for her.
“It’s amazing to know people are helping us,” Bush said. “It’s been great to have the interaction here and everyone has been really nice.”
Helping Bush give her children Christmas and have presents for Christmas morning is what the program is all about.
“We really try to provide service for a lot of people,” Edwards said. “But we want to maintain dignity and make it as easy as possible.”
And that dignity all starts with the toy donations from the community.
Edwards said the value of all the donations is that they provide a variety of up-to-date toys, and plenty of options so that those shopping have the opportunity to pick what they want their child to have – and it’s empowering to the families who participate.
“We like to provide hope all year long,” Edwards said. “But especially at Christmas.”
Edwards says they start working on each year’s event in February, and start nailing down details in August. Including the Jackets, over 1,900 volunteers help make the two days of giving possible.
“This would never happen without the volunteers,” Edwards said. “They bring the spirit, honestly.”
As Davidson chatted with families that went through the toy shop, and other Lady Jackets took time to interact with a young child, or counsel a mother on what gift would be best, you saw the Christmas spirit alive and well.
“That’s what I think the Blue Jackets are all about,” Davidson said. “We have such big hearts. It’s so rewarding to give back and what I love is that anything that comes up like this in the community, (the Blue Jackets) always want to help.”