The only thing that could possibly be more amazing than the four day run of parents “shopping” for toys for their kids at The Salvation Army Toy Shop is the unfathomable number of stuffed animals, board games, bikes, big wheels and all the other goodies giddy little children will find under their Christmas trees less than a month from now.
That’s all anyone could say as they make their way around the former warehouse where staff and volunteers of The Salvation Army, along with US Marines will gather to make the holiday wishes of thousands of families come true.
It’s all still in the planning stage – the brain trust is figuring out just where to put all the toys to make the flow of people and the distribution process as simple as possible. Floor space is a premium and it will get tighter as Christmas Day gets closer.
Debra Lewis, director of Social Services for The Salvation Army of Greater Milwaukee is calm and surprisingly reposed as the big days draw nearer. She can’t tell you how long Milwaukee’s version of Toy Shop has been going on and she doesn’t have time to figure it out. She’s too busy trying to make this year’s event go off without a hitch.
“Every toy in every box is counted and organized based on the ages of the children whose parents will be picking them out,” says Lewis when asked about the massive number of toys that will pass through the 70,000 foot facility located in the 5800 block of N 60th Street.
The toys, more than 100,000, were donated by a generous and caring community. They were collected by the Marines Toys for Tots, Kapco and Kids 2 Kids Christmas programs from a variety of donation sites throughout the greater Milwaukee area. The cost to families for all this Christmas cheer – zero dollars! And in these difficult times nothing could be better.
Parents have pre-registered to receive toys and games and books for their families – up to six items per family and then assigned a day just in time for Christmas to pick up their gifts.
“Running the toy store, getting ready for the Christmas season when you’ve got your own family to shop for, cook for and still be cheerful isn’t easy, but it’s all worth it when you see the joy on the faces of the parents who are able to make their children’s wish list come true,” Lewis says with a smile.
From December 17th through the 20th from 8:30 in the morning until 4:30 in the evening, the doors of the toy store will be open. For the families that will visit the Toy Shop, this is their Santa, his elves, the North Pole. Most won’t see the work that has gone into making this the phenomenal operation what it is. But when all is said and done, for many, if it weren’t for this enchanted place Christmas wouldn’t seem like Christmas at all.