By Gracie Brogowski, contributor
For the past 25 years, Harrisonburg’s Salvation Army, along with others in the area, has run the Toy Convoy as a way to bring joy to families in need, and the event has only expanded over the last quarter century.
“We have seen more donations and support from the community because the needs grow with time,” said Capt. Harold Gitau of the Harrisonburg Salvation Army.
This year, the toy drive will be supporting more than 500 families.
The Salvation Army began preparations for the event two months in advance. Families go to the organization’s nearest location to register in the first week of October, which then leads to discussing what they’d like for Christmas. After the drive and receiving donations, the families then come back and pick up the gifts.
“When you see the whole warehouse complete and the toys are ready to go, it’s a very good sight,” Gitau said.
The organization received a range of toy donations during the Toy Convoy. The focus is usually aimed at children from infants and toddlers to 12-year-olds. Gifts vary from recreation toys, such soccer balls for smaller children to different types of games that older kids prefer. People have also given clothing.
“When they come to pick up the toys, you can see the joy because they see the bicycles, they see the toys, they see the bags. So, it’s very fun to have that.” Gitau said.
While the Toy Convoy is run mainly through the Salvation Army, the organization has partnered with several local businesses within the city, such as the Harrisonburg Auto Mall and WHSV TV-3.
“I just said I would do it and it’s just grown every year,” said Rose Swartz, owner of Auto Mall.
Swartz said this is her 12th year participating. She typically kicks it off by going to Walmart and purchasing $5,000 worth of toys with her daughter, which then leads to more donations from others.
“We take all the toys from the dealerships and load them onto the truck at the end of the day,” Swartz said. “And then they go to the fairgrounds and all the women separate them and put them in the bags where they go for the different request that they get.”
Swartz and Giteau said they have noticed the amount of donations have increased within the past 25 years. Because of that increase, more families are being supported during the holiday season.
“The more people give to the Toy Convoy,” Giteau said, “the more kids and more families have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas and have gifts under the tree during Christmas.”
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