BECKLEY, W.Va. — The 88th annual Mac’s Toy Fund distribution party — one of the longest-running Christmas toy giveaway events in West Virginia — took place at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center on Saturday.
Since 1930, the fund has raised money and collected new and used toys, bikes, and coats for distribution to underprivileged children in the community. Each year, residents of Raleigh County who receive assistance from the Department of Health and Human Resources for their children receive a ticket by mail a few weeks before the event.
Before this year’s toy giveaway, volunteers organizers collected donations in coordination with local businesses, schools, churches, and government leaders in the months leading up to the annual toy giveaway.
For the past eight years, the Beckley Board of Realtors has been organizing a bike drive in support of Mac’s Toy Fund. This year, nearly 500 bicycles were collected. Arnold Bolen, who coordinates the rebuilding of used bikes, said the process of repairing and refurbishing donated items began in early October.
“We’ve been working at it five days a week. We have Boy Scouts come at nighttime and work on them, and I get men from the (Beckley Correctional Center work release program) to come over and help,” he said. “We had more tickets that went out this year. It’s a sad thing that more kids, about 1,200 more kids, were added to the list, this year. We were still able to serve everybody that came.”
Beckley City Council member Sherrie Hunter, a long-time volunteer who also serves as treasurer for Mac’s Toy Fund, said 5,800 households received toy tickets from DHHR in 2018, noting that the number of eligible families has grown steadily in recent years. She expressed gratitude to everyone who helped to make sure there would be enough toys for every child who arrived on Saturday.
“When the need arises, something about southern West Virginia listens to that cause,” she said. “And they call us in June, before anyone’s even thinking about Christmas.”
The inception of Mac’s Toy Fund began in 1930, not long after the effects of the worsening Great Depression started to generate additional hardships for thousands of Raleigh County families who already were struggling with economic deprivation. At that time, local newspaper editor Ted “Mac” McDowell implored his readers to do what they could to insure that no child in the county would experience Christmas without receiving some sort of gift. McDowell used his newspaper column to drum up support for his initiative, raising about $100 in the first year.
The fund now has a network of hundreds of regular volunteers and partners. Individual cash donations from local residents totaled more than $21,600 in 2018, according to organizers. Local businesses and multi-national corporations donated thousands of toys, coats, and other items, this year.