Judy Padgett likes to think of herself and other volunteers who run Toys for Manhattan as elves.
For the past 15 years, Padgett, director of the annual toy drive, has helped arrange toys and spread the word about the event so families in need can have gifts for their children during the holidays. Volunteers from local agencies separate the toys, clean them and sometimes make gift baskets or pair up toys that go well together.
“Everybody connected with this is a volunteer, every format, from me on down,” Padgett said. “We’re all Santa’s helpers.”
On Tuesday, volunteers cleaned doll houses and added jewelry to costumes to make more complete gifts for children. Rows of toys, books and clothes lined what used to be Ray’s Apple Market, separated by type and age range. Bags of crayons and sketch paper hung from easels and dolls and plastic food sat in toy grocery carts and on small kitchens.
The toys set out at the former grocery store are mostly used. Padgett said people also donate money, which she uses to buy new toys and other gifts to add to the toy drive.
Families can also find holiday decorations and wrapping paper.
The toy drive was started 50 years ago when a police officer received a call and a report that a family wasn’t celebrating Christmas, Padgett said.
The officer went back to the police station and had his coworkers find toys they could donate to the family, she said. Since then, Manhattan area residents have donated toys, their time and money to make sure families in need have a proper holiday.
Local agencies that help people in need, whether nonprofit organizations or health clinics working with low-income patients, refer their clients to the toy drive or provide information about the toy drive.
Padgett said she wishes the need would go away, but life happens and people struggle through the holidays or face unexpected emergencies. She said people sometimes get emotional when they see all the toys they can choose from and when they realize their children can have gifts during the holiday season.
“There gets to be a lot of tears, a lot of emotion happening, a lot of hugging,” Padgett said. “It’s heartwarming.”
Families interested in shopping for free toys can visit the shop at 3007 Anderson Ave. from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Dec. 2, 9 and 16.