GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Every year, Jeffery, Dawn, Amber, and Mason DeJonge plan their holiday celebrations around their volunteer work. Jeffery has been involved with Toys for Tots for 23 years. The past three years, he has been the coordinator for Kent County.
Soon after Jeffery's involvement, his wife, Dawn, joined in as well. When the kids were born, they began helping out with the toy collection, distribution and shopping.
"I can remember being eight months pregnant and distributing toys in December," said Dawn. "It's just what we do, and we schedule our lives around it."
She said as soon as the kids were old enough to ride in car carriers, they joined them on their volunteer days. Now, the kids do not even remember a year without Toys for Tots.
"We’ve done it our whole lives, from birth, we haven’t missed one," said Amber.
However, this year, distribution day looks a little different than years past with health and safety guidelines. Instead of having families shop the warehouse, they will have curbside pickup.
Despite the changes in procedure this year, the need is still great. Jeffery said last he checked, the number of families are 20 percent greater than last year. Toys for Tots Kent County serves 13,000 children.
"We’ve seen it with your friends, your family maybe," said Dawn. "Not everyone has a job or finances to make Christmas magical. It takes families like ours and our entire Kent County community to come together and make that happen."
The memories are fun for Mason and Amber, but they are also learning the value in helping others.
"Most people don’t really know what goes on outside their community," said Amber. "We live in a pretty stable neighborhood, everyone around here gets Christmas presents from their families, and don’t see how it is for other kids. Some kids the most gifts they get for Christmas is a new pair of socks. It’s humbling to know you can help them."
The children also help with shopping for toys with donations. They try to find the best and most on-trend toys to purchase, so the children receiving them will enjoy them.
"I’m a really great help," said Mason, "because I’m in that age, I know all that trendy stuff. I’ll have people come up to me on the toy buys that are way older than me, ask if I like this? Would this be a good gift? So, I feel important."
This year, there is still plenty of time to help out Toys for Tots. Amber encourages people to buy some Black Friday deals on toys to donate. Jeffery said they also need baby and teen gifts, in addition to toys. Plus, anyone can donate a toy or financial donation.
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