The Toy Convoy is an initiative taken on by WHSV and The Salvation Army to provide thousands of children with various items, including bicycles, winter coats, food and toys for the holidays.
2017 will mark the 21st year that the annual Toy Convoy will benefit the children living in Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Elkton, Dayton and Staunton.
Ashley Gordon-Becker, director of development for The Salvation Army in Harrisonburg, was born and raised in the local community. She emphasizes how the success of the Toy Convoy comes from the teamwork displayed by the individuals and businesses in the area.
“We are a very giving and philanthropic community,” Gordon-Becker said. “Seeing all of these businesses and members of the community come together to provide Christmas for the children that would not have Christmas otherwise — it’s heartwarming.”
Mountain Valley Burger King, Harrisonburg Auto Mall and Walmart are also joining forces this year to collect toys, clothes and monetary donations for local children and their families.
For over two decades, the surrounding communities of the Valley have come together to benefit the low-income families who don’t have the necessary resources to provide their children with a holiday meal or presents for underneath the Christmas tree.
In order to provide enough food for each family, The Salvation Army needed to receive 1,300 turkeys and chickens from the local community. They almost met their goal by being able to feed 600 families for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.
“Seeing those families come in, knowing that they would not have had a meal if it wasn’t for the generosity of the community, hits hard, especially because most of us are very fortunate,” Gordon-Becker said.
The Toy Convoy requires months of planning and collaboration from WHSV and the local communities. Tina Wood, the operations manager at WHSV, has been a part of this tradition ever since it began 21 years ago.
“I love the way the community comes together,” Wood said. “The most memorable thing is that you sit there and you watch this trailer fill up with toys — it just makes it all worthwhile.”
During the first week in October, families apply to become a part of The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree by providing proof of income, expenses and number of people living in the household. The Angel Tree allows the children from those families to put five wishes on the tree. These wishes could be anything from a board game or favorite toy to a pair of shoes or winter scarf.
Most of the time, all five wishes are provided, but sometimes holes are left on the tree where a child’s wish wasn’t granted. With Toy Convoy, those holes are filled by the donations collected across the Valley and given out on distribution day. This year, families can pick up these toys Dec. 15 at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.
Kim Wentz, regional resource development director for The Salvation Army, has been involved with distribution day for the past 17 years. She continues to be amazed at the surprising generosity she experiences by locals who aren’t familiar with the program.
“I was in Waynesboro two years ago when this gentleman walked up and asked what we were doing,” Wentz said. “He came back and had purchased five bicycles — it gives you chills.”
Thousands of children benefit and depend on the Toy Convoy each year. Alone, there are 1,401 children from Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. There are also 348 children from Staunton, 650 from Augusta County and 356 from Waynesboro who’ll now have presents to open on Christmas morning.
“It allows them to be just like everyone else,” Wood said. “I believe that every child wants to believe in Santa Claus, and this gives them the opportunity to continue to believe.”