Volunteer group to hold 13th annual toy drive in Bryant

By Wayne Bryan Published December 12, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

From the left, Rick Meter, Brandt Ballew, Tammy Ballew and James Ballew are part of the 2013 Toy Troopers toy drive that will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Walmart Supercenter parking lot in Bryant.

Saline County residents will have an opportunity this weekend to pass along some Christmas spirit and to also teach a lesson about giving.

The 13th annual Toy Troopers toy drive will be held from Friday through Sunday in a section of the parking lot of the Walmart Supercenter in Bryant.

“The toy drive actually started when my wife, Tammy, and I wanted to teach our son Brandt about the job of giving,” said James Ballew, leader of the volunteer group the Toy Troopers. “The name was for the elementary school kids who took part in the first drive, and it stuck.”

Ballew said that along with his wife and son, there are eight to 10 other volunteers, including Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs, Rick Meyer of Bryant and Greg Thompson of the Bryant Parks and Recreation Department.

“We are all volunteers,” Ballew said, adding that the event is now the largest toy drive in Saline County.

“All the toys we collect or buy stay in the Benton-Bryant area,” he said. “We were a big part in helping more than 1,100 kids and more than 700 families last Christmas. Over the years, we have handed out toys to thousands of children in the county.”

The toy drive will feature free food and fun for the entire family. Admission is the donation of a new, unwrapped toy or a monetary contribution, according to an announcement from Greg Thompson of the Bryant Parks and Recreation Department.

“There will be inflatables, and Santa will be there from 1-4 on Saturday and Sunday,” Ballew said. “Chick-fil-A will have food there, and First Security Bank will have their grill there.”

The goal of the drive is big this year, Thompson said in the announcement for the toy drive. He said it is predicted that the need will be greater than ever this year.

“That’s the word I hear on the street,” Ballew said. “I am concerned. We want to collect a tractor-trailer load of toys this year.”

Ballew said all of the money raised at the toy-drive event, and from the barbecue cook-off during the Family Fest held at Bishop Park over the July Fourth weekend, will go to purchase toys. On Monday, Ballew announced that the Oasis Tropical Cafe in Bryant will contribute 10 percent of the its food sales to the toy fund during the three-day toy drive.

“We often use the money for gifts for the older children,” he said. “When people donate toys, they often bring toys for toddlers or 3- to 5-year-olds and not the older kids. And there are never enough bicycles.”

The toys collected during the drive or purchased with Toy Trooper funds go to the children of families who contact the organization asking for help.

“We then have a day when we tell those families to meet with us; the locations change almost every year,” Ballew said. “That is usually done without fanfare because the toys are limited. You should see the looks on the families’ faces when the children receive the toys. And I wish everyone could see the faces of the families still waiting when we run out of toys. It is a sight that you never forget.”

Often the families also need food or other assistance. When the Toy Troopers receive those calls, they are passed along to CJCOHN, the Church Joint Council on Human Needs, a faith-based food pantry for Saline County residents in Benton.

For more information on the toy drive or to contribute, call Ballew at (501) 943-0999.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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