JCOC's Toyland open: Local families will have a merrier Christmas
by Paige Rentz
Tables piled high with sports equipment, baby dolls, Play Doh, toy dump trucks, board games, books, crafts and much, much, more filled the McWhorter Activity Center at First Methodist Church last week. Toyland, a by-appointment store for clients of the Jacksonville Christian Outreach Center, provided more than 178 families a way to shop for Christmas gifts for nearly 300 area children.

“I think it’s great. They help people,” said Rashmeya Garrett as she sat in line to shop Thursday afternoon. A single parent, Garrett studies criminal justice at Jacksonville State University and works at the Jacksonville Walmart. This is the third year the JCOC has helped her provide toys for her 8-year-old son.

According to Lexie Caputo, one of the organizers of the four-day event, the JCOC receives enormous support from the community, including many area businesses, churches and individuals. The community support made it possible to provide more than enough toys to supply the needs of families this year and the remainder will be put into storage for next year, Caputo said.

As the last of the shoppers were making their way up and down the rows of tables with Toyland volunteers, the tables were still stacked with Barbie dolls, multiple games such as Candy Land and Yahtzee, toy guitars and keyboards, matchbox cars, Nerf guns and more. A few bikes still lined the back wall.

Items such as boom boxes, guitars, keyboards, drum kits and mp3 players went pretty quickly, Caputo said. The center had more than 40 bicycles at the beginning of the week. Each year, volunteers keep track of which families get bikes and give out bikes to new families the following year. “We try to spread it around a little more,” she said.

In addition to the 292 children up to the age of 12 served by the Toyland store, volunteers provided $40 vouchers to 93 teenagers so they can pick out their own Christmas purchases at Walmart. The center provided 35 more vouchers to local senior citizens to purchase food for the holiday from Food Outlet.

Before the Toyland program began several years ago, the JCOC Christmas program used Angel Trees to provide toys for an anonymous child in the community. But the current Toyland system, said one of its organizers, Beth Johnson, works better because the parents actually get to pick out the toys based on their individual children’s interests.

One representative from each family came by appointment over the course of the four days to shop. Appointments are made on a first-come, first-served basis.

“I think it’s good the way they have the appointments set up so it won’t be too many people at one time,” Garrett said. “You won’t have to wait in long lines outside.”

Garrett said she helps the JCOC volunteers pick up their purchases for Toyland at Walmart and assists the teenagers and clients when they come in to the store to use the vouchers they provide. “They have a lot of nice stuff,” she said.

Beth Huber was shopping for her two young sons on Thursday.

Huber said in the past she’s donated a lot to the JCOC and other initiatives in the Jacksonville area. “And here I am lost my job and I get to be a recipient,” she said. “So this is different, being on the receiving end.”

Huber said she lost her job at the Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center two years ago and has just gotten re-employed there, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Having a program like Toyland to fall back on has been a big help. “I think it’s pretty great,” she said. “To go from having nothing to having some toys for my kids for Christmas, that’s a pretty huge blessing for us.”
© 2012