By Zane Davis
The Christmas season often conjures vision of pajama-clad children running to discover what exciting gifts are under the Christmas tree for them. Nearly everyone has memories of similar instances in their life. However, many children are unable to experience this childhood memory due to family circumstances beyond their control. No child should ever miss out on the joy of Christmas, and a small non-profit group in the small town of Weiser, Idaho aims to prevent disadvantaged children in the area from ever having to experience disappointment on Christmas morning.
Many people automatically think of the Marines when the name Toys for Tots is mentioned, but for nearly three decades, the registered non-profit group, also called Toys for Tots, located in Weiser, Idaho, has been providing Christmas joy to the youth of Washington County and surrounding areas. The Weiser Toys for Tots group is run by a group of four unlikely Santa Claus stand-ins; the owners of Ole’s Tavern, Michael and Malissa Campbell, and the owners of Quality Auto, Jim and Brenda Shelby. This benevolent quartet works year-round to raise funds, purchase and wrap gifts and deliver the presents to deserving area children to make their Christmas joyous, in addition to running their respective businesses.
Toys for Tots began in 1987 by Michael Campbell’s grandparents, Kenny and Gloria Nelson. The Nelsons provided gifts for area children until 1999, when health issues forced Kenny Nelson to pass the yuletide torch to Blake Craigbaum. Craigbaum kept the organization running until 2011, when Michael Campbell and his trio of Santas took over.
Campbell states that the Weiser Toys for Tots organization is entirely funded by annual fundraising activities, and every cent raised goes directly toward purchasing gifts for children less fortunate. Ole’s Tavern, located on US Highway 95, hosts a motorcycle poker run every fall to raise money. Additionally, there is an auction held at the bar made possible by generous donations from area businesses. The most recent auction raised over $5,200, which, according to Campbell, is made possible by the “amazing community of Weiser”. Bare Ur Arms Tactical in Payette, Idaho recently raffled off a gun to raise funds for Toys for Tots, and donated $3,250 to the program. Campbell stated that this donation was “a huge deal”. Toys for Tots also takes donations of new, unopened toys from individuals throughout the year. Campbell states that the organization has raised over $8,000 this year, and Toys for Tots will spend $50-$60 apiece on area children until the money runs out. The group helps anywhere from 80-150 children, depending on the year, but he anticipates delivering approximately 500 gifts in 2016.
Toys for Tots tries to aid the kids in the area that are missed by the popular Ho Ho Express program; those children aged 1-5, or kids that are too old to participate in the Ho Ho Express. Toys for Tots often receives names from the Weiser WICAP of families in need, but community members are also welcome to nominate children directly.
Campbell is quick to point out that although there are four main players in the Toys for Tots organization, there are numerous individuals that volunteer their time to help set things up, wrap gifts and deliver presents. He also states, “My wife is amazing. She does 90% of the shopping, and works at making [Toys for Tots] possible year-round.”
What is designed to aid children that might not have a very good Christmas has inadvertently turned into a family legacy. Campbell recalls selling hot dogs at the age of 8 or 9 outside the former IGA grocery store, which is now Ridley’s, to raise funds for Toys for Tots when his grandfather was at the helm. The family tradition continues and Campbell states, “The whole experience is so satisfying, and has made a big impact on my own children”. Malissa and Michael have two children, Jordan and Mason, ages 11 and 6. Daughter, Jordan, has begun helping with the gift giving by wrapping and helping deliver gifts. Campbell says, “I think she has a better appreciation of her own gifts through helping out.”
Campbell says that the gratitude that the people Toys for Tots helps is amazing. He has been especially impacted by the grandparents that are raising their grandchildren. He states, “It will make you cry sometimes when you deliver gifts. It always makes you wish you could do more.” Campbell adds, “People are so appreciative, and in many instances, there have been people that we have helped, and when they get themselves in a better financial situation, they have come back to help us help others.”
Toys for Tots began taking names of eligible children on December 1st. If you would like to nominate a child, you can call Malissa Campbell at 550-2355 or Quality Auto at 549-2541. Toys for Tots will need the child’s name, gender, age, address and phone number. Also, if you of a child in need of a coat or winter wear, Toys for Tots will accommodate that need, as well, and will fulfill that need immediately. Toys for Tots also welcomes volunteers and donations either in the form or new toys or financial contributions.
Take a moment during this Christmas season to appreciate the good fortune in your life, and if you have a desire to pay that good fortune forward, there are an alarming number of needy children in our area, and Toys for Tots, (the Weiser version), would be grateful to accept your help and pass it on to every child that deserves a good Christmas memory. Merry Christmas!