Community

Volunteers help bring this year’s Toys for Tots drive to a wrap

Shelby Foster and Collin Foster, 15, organize bags of toys as the Centre County Toys for Tots campaign came to a close Sunday at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.
Shelby Foster and Collin Foster, 15, organize bags of toys as the Centre County Toys for Tots campaign came to a close Sunday at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center. psheehan@centredaily.com

Last Thursday, Gene and Donna Weller walked into The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center prepared for the worst.

The couple has been heading the Centre County Toys for Tots campaign for nearly 30 years and have long since learned the importance of organization.

Volunteers had five days to wrap and bag thousands of toys that would be distributed to nearly as many local families in need, and every indication was that the weather had no intention of cooperating.

Donna Weller doesn’t typically like to start wrapping on move-in day — or the day when they set up shop in The Penn Stater — preferring to use the time to get organized before getting down to business.

This year they started straight away, afraid that the icy roads and chilly temperatures would keep generous souls at home.

It’s a program that people see the value of.

Donna Weller

Instead, dozens of volunteers from Target, Wegmans, the Penn Stave Naval ROTC Battalion and the Marine Corps League showed up to lend a helping hand.

By 6 p.m. Friday, 1,700 toys had been wrapped and prepared for distribution, all in the name of Toys for Tots.

“It’s a program that people see the value of,” Donna Weller said.

By late Sunday afternoon, there were only a handful of volunteers remaining — but piles of wrapped gifts had been left behind in their wake.

All of them will be distributed to food pantries throughout Centre County, which serve as the intermediary between the program and the families it supports.

In turn, the food pantries not only receive the gift of giving, but a cut of the 4,500 pieces of food donated to Toys for Tots this year.

The Wellers are quick to credit volunteers like Arnold Gasche for making it all possible.

Gasche, a retired Navy Captain, has been giving his time to Toys for Tots for nearly a decade.

“This operation is so amazing. You can’t help but want to help them,” Gasche said.

Obviously we’re not having a problem meeting the needs that are here in Centre County.

Gene Weller

The wrapping paper, tape and labels are all donated. All that Gasche has to worry about is fitting between 20 and 30 presents in a bag.

“Older people need exercise too — including lifting,” Gasche said.

Gene Weller, who in addition to running Toys for Tots is also a retired United States Marine Corps Major, said that organization could use some new blood among the ranks of volunteers.

“Like most veterans organizations, we’re not attracting enough young people,” Gene Weller said.

Still, if the bags of presents filling the room are any indication, that hasn’t prevented anyone from getting the job done.

“Obviously we’re not having a problem meeting the needs that are here in Centre County,” Gene Weller said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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