By Sarah Naron

Messenger Reporter

PALESTINE – The stage at Court Drive Church of Christ is currently lined from one end to the other with baby dolls, basketballs and everything in between as the church prepares to open its doors to the parents of needy children in the area for its annual Toy Box, an event which the church has held since 2011.

“We don’t ask people to prove anything,” explained Nancy Gambrell, a director of the event. “If they feel they need help, we just have them give us their name, address and (the names) of their children and their ages.

“This year, we’re having to turn a lot of people away, because we maxed out at almost 600 children,” Gambrell continued.

“That’s more than ever,” added Dolores Waldrum, who also helps coordinate the toy drive. “We have a lot we’ve told they’ll have to be on the waiting list, because our toys come from donations from the community. Our people here (at the church) donate some, and then, different organizations around town donate. So, it depends on how many donations we get as to how many people we can serve.”

Each contact is given an appointment where they get to come and pick out what they want for their children.

“The parents actually can pick. That’s most unusual, I think,” Waldrum said.

Because they set appointments, only three or so mothers at a time are looking for toys for their children.

“We have hostesses that take them to their appropriate age that they’re looking for. Then, we have people that volunteer to wrap, and we have a little refreshment table set up. They (the parents) can sit and have refreshments while they wait for everything to be wrapped. Then, we have a crew that carries everything out to their car,” Gambrell said.

The gifts are even tagged.

“That’s an added touch. They don’t have to do a thing,” Waldrum said.

Court Drive Church of Christ’s minister Paul Jones has been all over town recruiting help for the toy drive, according to Gambrell, noting they work in conjunction with other local toy drives to reach as many children as possible.

The event is also helped along by other churches in the area and the local 4-H chapter.

“We used to do it…just like an angel tree, where we would just adopt a child, members of the church,” Gambrell said of the event’s history. “But you couldn’t reach very many people that way; we’re a small church.”

The success of the event, as Gambrell stated, depends heavily on how much help the church receives from the community.

“The community has been great,” said Gambrell. “The radio station gets the word out and operates different contests with different places. We get panicky at times, because we don’t have anything, and then, all of a sudden, it’ll just be full.”

The church began allowing parents to sign their children up at the beginning of November, but had been receiving inquiries about the event since September.

“We just hate that we have to tell people they’ll be on the waiting list,” Gambrell said. “We’re gonna try to serve about 350, and then, if we’ve got the funds and the supplies, we’ll call those on the waiting list.

“After we get everything set up and we see how much we have, we’ll start calling the waiting list,” Gambrell explained. “Also, after we’ve served those initial ones – we’re serving the 11th through the 14th  in December – so, by the 13, we would know how much we’re gonna have left, and we can start calling those on the waiting list. So, it’s plenty of time before Christmas.

It’s a lot of fun to help with the toy drive, Gambrell said.

“That’s why we have so many other churches that want to come and help us serve on the four nights that we’re doing it. It’s just a joy,” she said.

In addition to serving young children, the church also offers help to families in the area who have teenaged children.

“They are all so appreciative,” said Gambrell of the parents who utilize the event.

“Sometimes, people don’t have much self-esteem when they’re lacking,” Waldrum said. “And this says ‘You matter.’”

Donations will continue to be accepted by the church through Sunday, Dec. 10. Court Drive Church of Christ is located at 1434 Court Dr. in Palestine.