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Local families brave weather for Toys for Tots

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

It was a cold, windy and rainy Saturday, but that didn’t stop a few thousand people from lining up around the Kitsap Fairgrounds Pavilion for the 2007 Toys for Tots toy giveaway.

A long line of families stretched out the front door and around the corner to the back of the building, all in an effort to put smiles on their kids’ faces.

“It’s such a blessing,” said Rhiannon Stewart, a mother of eight who endured the cold for a couple of hours before making it inside. “The kids get to see Santa and it’s wonderful.”

A lot of people like Stewart lined up long before Tots’ 10 a.m. start time.

“I got here before 8 o’clock and there were people in the parking lot,” said Tots coordinator Harry Tachell of the Marine Corps League Olympic Peninsula Detachment. “I want to say they were here at 7 o’clock.”

The line seemed to move fast, though, despite all of the people on hand and the fact there was only one Santa to go around.

“It’s been nice,” said Vicky Windle, who brought her son, Elan, to the event. “It’s pretty quick once you get in.”

Tachell, fellow coordinator Sam Martin of the Marine Corps Reserves and a handful of other volunteers handed out about 6,000 toys during the day, which was just enough to make things comfortable for everyone.

“We’d like to have seven (thousand),” Martin said during the event. “(But) five will get them, six will make them happy.”

Every child who attended the event got at least one toy and there were even a few left over, Tachell said.

No matter how many toys are available, though, it’s always worth it for the people who spend nearly five months each year preparing for one day of toy handouts.

“(Last year) some little kid looked up to me and said, ‘thank you,’ and that made it all worth while,” Tachell said.

Martin, Tachell and a small band of other volunteers start preparing for Toys for Tots in August. Collections begin in October and by Thanksgiving, Martin and Tachell start putting in 14-hour days till the day of the event.

They’ll keep collecting this year through Dec. 22. Toys collected from now until then and those left over from Saturday’s event will be donated to other local charities. Donation stations are located throughout the community.

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