By Jessica Farrish
The 83rd annual Mac’s Toy Fund event brought Christmas a little early to more than 2,000 families in the Raleigh County area this year as many of the area’s underprivileged children were treated to a toy-gathering spree Saturday at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
Started in 1930 by Beckley Post-Herald editor Ted “Mac” McDowell, Mac’s has grown every year into a community event that provides toys, bikes and coats to children who may not get those items without help.
Outside the building, Waylon Osterloh, 2, of Beckley, waited patiently with his dad, Dustin, so that he and his sister, 4-year-old Kaedence, could walk through the toys and make their selections.
“We’re just looking for toys,” said Osterloh. “Waylon likes soccer balls and little toy cars, and, hopefully, we’ll find a little bicycle for him.”
As he took his turn to choose toys, McClaren Conner, 10, clutched a car and a stuffed cartoon character.
“I got Phineas, from my favorite every-morning cartoon,” he said, holding up the stuffed toy. “And a wrestling set, and this car, to help me race.”
McClaren’s brother, 8-year-old CJ Overbay, chose a Matchbox Skybuster Frenzy Flyer, a battleship and a stuffed turtle.
McClaren has been three times to a Mac’s event, and CJ said Saturday marked his second trip.
The boys and their mother, Christy Overbay of Shady Spring, said the selection of toys was varied and excellent.
Children waited their turn to stroll through the aisles, choosing from racks of soccer and footballs, racing cars, trucks, Mr. Potato Heads, stuffed giraffes, owls, rabbits and educational games.
Mountains of colorfully clothed, donated dolls — Cabbage Patch Kids, dolls with hair, bald babies — held court beside hundreds of clean, pre-owned Barbies, several of them sporting handmade, one-of-a-kind crocheted dresses.
New River Community and Technical College professor Kelli White, who directs the college’s social services program, reported that her group, The Browning Social Service Club, collected more than 500 coloring book and crayon sets for Mac’s.
“They were gone really quick,” White reported.
Rows upon rows of donated bikes, with helmets, waited for just the right rider to find them.
Four-year-old Barbara, daughter of Sumikki Culver of Clear Creek, liked her bike so much that she didn’t want it out of her possession for a moment.
Her large, brown eyes glowed with appreciation as she sat on the seat and ran her tiny hands carefully over the handlebars.
From the hundreds of bikes, she’d found one that seemed made for her: a Disney Princess bike, with a basket, and a lilac-colored helmet — all in her size.
She placed a doll from Mac’s in the bicycle basket and — except to nod that she liked her bike and doll — demurely declined comment.
Children weren’t only choosing toys at Mac’s, they were also volunteering.
Alex Webb, 10, of Grandview, helped carry bikes out to waiting vehicles.
He said Saturday was the first time he’d helped at Mac’s.
“I just saw some kids that were really needy, and it just kind of made me feel like I should help them out,” he explained.
Aaliyah and Alyssa Williams, 12-year-old students at Park Middle School, chose Mac’s Toy Fund as their individual community service projects as members of the National Junior Honor Society.
“It’s amazing,” said the twins’ dad, Dr. Anthony Williams of Beckley. “People have come out to support it, and the recipients have been so grateful.”
“There’s a lot of people, a lot of volunteers here helping,” said Tom Meritt of Beckley, who has volunteered at Mac’s for a decade. “It’s a good cause. Any time we can give back to the community, to people who are less fortunate, it’s a good cause.”
Beth Dayton of Beckley helped hand out fruit bags and collected tickets.
“I think it’s good, it’s a good thing,” she said. “People have been happy.”
Rachel Cornett of Beckley reported that her two sons, Todd, 22, and Tristan, 17, helped carry bicycles to cars, along with her “adopted” son, Chino, 22, of the West Virginia Miners’ baseball team.
Cornett said her family enjoys serving people every year at Christmastime.
“They’re very thankful and appreciative,” she said. “The boys love it. They’re excited for this, as they are for any other charity event we go to.”
Register-Herald Managing Editor Dawn Dayton has been president of Mac’s Toy Fund since 1997. Each year, she said, is rewarding.
“I like seeing the people, especially the kids,” said Dayton. “They get so excited, their eyes sparkle.
“Sometimes the parents are so grateful and they will tell you,” she said. “They will be so gracious, you can tell the sincerity in their voice. You can hear it.”
Dayton and her team prepare for the event each year by collecting money and coordinating drives for bikes and toys.
She said Raleigh County Department of Health and Human Services workers send out around 4,100 invitations to needy families, and usually around half of them come for toys.
“But I think it might be more this year,” said Dayton. “Which is sad, but that’s why I’m glad we’re here. I’m just happy we can do it.”
Volunteer Sherrie Hunter said she was impressed by the number of younger volunteers this year.
Johnna Shumate, 23, and her sister, Perry, 18, have been volunteering at Mac’s for eight years.
The girls drove from West Virginia University to help at the event.
Although they’ll be staying in Beckley this break, they’ve driven into Beckley expressly to work at Mac’s in past years, then turned around the next day to go back to Morgantown.
“I like to give back for how much I have,” explained Perry, a sophomore majoring in industrial engineering. “It helps me feel good about the season.”
Perry believes in Mac’s mission so much that she’s told family members she’ll expand the program if she ever wins the lottery.
Johnna, a first-year law student, said she enjoys volunteering in other community efforts with her sorority, Chi Omega, while she’s in Morgantown.
In Beckley, Mac’s offers a “hands-on” volunteer experience, she said.
“It’s becoming a Christmas tradition with our family,” said Johnna.
She added, “This is for local people I grew up with, so it feels good to help better lives of people here.”
Allison Jarrett, 23, and her brother, Jordan Jarrett, 26, have volunteered at Mac’s “for years.”
Allison, a WVU student, said they’d had to miss a couple of years in a row and wanted this year to be different.
“Jordan and I wanted to come back this year,” she said.
Jordan Jarrett said Mac’s gives volunteers an opportunity to see Christmas from a different perspective and to remind them of what the holiday should mean.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Jordan said. “You can appreciate the smaller joys. You can come here, enjoy helping out and helping people.”
West Virginia University of Technology student Katie Muovich, 19, said Hunter introduced her to volunteering at Mac’s.
“I love community service,” said Muovich. “This program is helping children. It’s just awesome to give back and remember the reason for the season.”
Evangeline Stover has never forgotten the reason for the season, or the gift she got from Mac’s Toy Fund over 30 years ago.
“It was a cigar box lined with lace and had a doll in it,” she recalled. “It was handmade.
“It meant everything,” said Stover. “It meant somebody cared, somebody loved.”
As she celebrated her birthday Saturday, she handed out printed copies of “Mac and Me,” a poem she wrote about her experience with Mac’s that long-ago Christmas.
“Anxiously anticipating my turn, as from the balcony I viewed. Then the kind volunteer led me through, and I knew I had to decide; When I chose the dolly in a homemade bed, I noticed tears in his eyes.
“It was simply a cigar box lined with lovely pink satin and white lace. Including a blanket and pillow for the doll, the joy a heart cannot erase.
“We never know when giving, how another’s life will be touched with love. This unique family of friends are extended hands from God above.”
Stover said she comes each year to hand out poems and to remind people that “in the shadow of the manger is the cross” of Christ.
Christmas music was performed by Eddie McNeely, Friday Night Shape Note Singers, Heaven’s Harmony, Bennett Family, Eric Murphy, Rod Hedrick and others.
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