Brothers Jeff and Lawrence Hellings are once again encouraging Bradford residents to contribute to the annual Christmas toy drive to help give gifts to children in need this holiday season.
The Bradford Rotary Club originally started the toy drive in 2001, and then member, Jeff, proposed hosting the drop-off location at Decorator’s Edge, which opened in 1991 and is operated by Lawrence and his wife Gail.
After the local Rotary club disbanded in 2013, the brothers decided to continue collecting toys at the store and have donated to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie, Southlake Regional Heath Centre in Newmarket, some local schools and those in need who come in and ask.
“If somebody comes forward and asks for toys, we give them to them,” Jeff said. “Whoever needs them can get them. We’re not going to say no anyone; that’s what it’s all about.”
For the last several years, the brothers have been partnered with Christmas for Kids, a year-round charity based out of Innisfil, providing Christmas and birthday gifts to local children in need, as well as holiday foods to families in need.
The toy drive usually starts after the Santa Claus parade, and while that was only a little more than a week ago, the crib in which the toys are collected is already beginning to fill up with donations.
“It always starts off slow, but it always ends up being good,” Jeff said, noting that by the end, they’re frequently able to fill one or two pickup trucks with donations.
In a photo from 10 to 12 years ago, Lawrence showed how they almost ran out of space for all the donations.
“You can see here, it goes right across the front of the store,” he said.
The type of toys donated tends to change each year, with the photo showing plenty of RC cars, and Lawrence noting that they’ve received plenty of board games, puzzles and dolls so far this year.
A current member of the Rotary Club of Innisfil, Jeff also pitches in as one of Santa’s helpers during the holiday season, and this year he’s hearing plenty of young girls asking for Barbie dolls and plenty of young boys asking for Nerf guns.
“Every year is different. You’re not going to get the same thing twice, no matter how hard you try,” he said.
While Jeff and Lawrence were speaking with BradfordToday, Cheryl Bobesich happened to visit the store to make her annual donation — this year providing a tea set themed around the film Frozen, along with a set of PAW Patrol puppy figures.
Bobesich has been living in Bradford for about 16 years and donating to the toy drive for about the last 12.
“It’s wonderful, and it’s especially necessary this year. Financially, a lot of people are struggling,” she said.
Jeff echoed that sentiment, explaining that he also helps at the Innisfil Food Bank, where he has seen increased demand this year.
“We’ve been doing this (toy drive) since 2001 and every year we’ve been very successful. This year I’m anticipating to be the worst year because of the economy, and the way everything is going. For a lot of people it’s going to rough,” he said.
When it comes to what items are most helpful to donate, Lawrence hoped people wouldn’t forget those kids aged 12 to 16, who are sometimes overlooked, because it can be easier to buy toys for younger children.
For those kids who are coming of age, the brothers recommended shaving kits, hair products, makeup items or even pharmacy gift cards as a few examples.
Jeff is also looking to partner with a Bradford-based charity or service club to help distribute the toys locally.
“I’d really like to see a lot more of it stay here, like local local,” he said.
If anyone is able to help, speak to Lawrence at Decorator’s Edge.
The toy drive runs until Dec. 24 at the store, located at 284 Holland St. W.
— With files from Natasha Philpott