For the eighth year in a row, the Edmonds United Methodist Church fellowship hall became a Saturday morning magic carpet for families in need, a veritable holiday wonderland of toys, books, ornaments, music and dozens of scurrying volunteer elves filling customer baskets with all the makings of a festive holiday.
The best part — you don’t need money to shop here. All items are either new or gently used, the result of generous donations by members of our community.
Pamela Frank and Jenn Hendrix have been overseeing the Toy Shop since its inception eight years ago.
“Most of our customers are regular food bank shoppers,” explained Frank. “We identify families in need, and invite them to visit the Toy Shop. On toy shop day we first check folks in, offer coffee and snacks so they won’t have to shop hungry, and assign them a personal shopper who escorts them through the entire process, helping fill their cart with books, stuffed animals, clothing, toys and decor. We do have some rules. Each child in the family gets one new and one used toy, one stuffed animal and two books.
“And it’s more than just presents; we want to help our families create a festive home for the holiday, so at the end of their shopping spree each family gets to take home a selection of holiday decor, wrapping paper, cards, bows and ribbons, and even candy canes.”
One very special rule is that parents not bring their children to the toy shop.
“This way the parents bring the toys home, wrap them and give them to their children as if they came from Santa Claus,” she added.
While bicycles have always been a popular item at the Toy Shop, this year it was absolutely over the top, thanks to Eagle Scout Sam Harris. Harris took on the toy shop’s bike shop as his Eagle Scout project and spent months soliciting bicycle donations, refurbishing, repairing and renovating. It all came to fruition on Saturday morning as he filled a dedicated room at the Toy Shop with more than 200 bikes and trikes, all destined to brighten the holiday for children of families in need.
“This year we have more bicycles than ever,” said Toy Shop co-coordinator Jenn Hendrix. “It just thrills me to think of the many children who, thanks to Sam, will find a shiny new bicycle waiting for them on Christmas morning. Does it get any more special than that!”
Running the Toy Shop takes an army of volunteers, but it’s all worth it according to Hendrix. “We could just put the toys in a truck and park it outside,” she said. “But while doing it this way means more work, it creates a real experience.”
It’s easy for the coordinators and volunteers to get lost in the hustle and bustle of Toy Shop day, but the real meaning shines through in the faces and stories of the customers.
Georgia Melton of Edmonds had to fight back the tears as she chose stuffed animals for her six children aged 7-12, one of whom has just completed chemotherapy and is facing cancer surgery next month. Stretched to the limit financially, she was looking at a particularly bleak holiday season when she heard about the Toy Shop and signed up during a recent visit to the food bank.
“This is so incredible to me,” she said as she hugged a stuffed animal, her eyes welling with tears. “This is the kindest, most wonderful place. It’s beyond anything I could have imagined. This place is pure love.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel