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Salvation Army Toy Shop brings holiday joy to underprivileged families in community

Kris Fuqua, with The Salvation Army, arranges donated toys Wednesday at the Kandi Mall. The toys were gathered for the annual Toy Shop and Toys for Tots campaign and will be distributed to needy families. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Because of The Salvation Army Toy Shop, more than 900 Kandiyohi County children will have presents to open on Christmas morning next week.

Over the next two days, a total of 450 families will be shopping a selection of donated toys at The Salvation Army’s distribution center at the Kandi Mall Strip Center, 1605 First Street South.

On Wednesday afternoon, envoy Kris Fuqua, corps administrator at The Salvation Army, didn’t know how many toys had been collected in all, but she estimated that it would be enough for each child to receive two or possibly three gifts, depending on the age group. Families shopping at the toy shop can also choose one board game and two smaller stocking stuffers, in addition to the main toys.

“We have some really good, quality gifts to give this year,” Fuqua said. “I think families will be really happy with the selection.”

This is the second year that families have been allowed to choose their own gifts for their children. That gives parents the chance to find gifts that are more meaningful and more suited to their children’s personalities and interests, Fuqua said.

“In the past, we used to pre-bag gifts,” she said. “That didn’t always work, because sometimes a kid would get a basketball when he likes to play football. We prefer that the experience be as close to shopping as it can be.”

Families had to apply to receive this holiday assistance, which also includes food vouchers for a Christmas meal. Many of the families who apply are working poor, meaning they have one or two jobs but still can’t keep up with expenses.

“We don’t want any families to not pay their bills so that they can buy toys for their children at Christmas,” Fuqua said. “We want to make sure they have a nice Christmas and can pay the rent and utilities as well.”

Over the past month, The Salvation Army has collected toys at its main office and at Angel Trees placed throughout Kandiyohi County. Fuqua also purchased $7,500 worth of toys from cash donations.

In addition, the local Toys for Tots organization collected 2,400 toys for The Salvation Army’s toy drive, and the Willmar Ambulance also collected toys, as well as $4,320 in cash donations, which it used to purchase nearly 300 gift cards.

“Gift cards are a fantastic item,” Fuqua said. “Almost all of them are for $15, so it’s a nice value gift.”

Between all of those efforts, Fuqua said she shouldn’t have to do any last-minute toy runs on Friday morning — something she’s done in the past.

“I feel comfortable saying that I won’t be going shopping on Friday,” she said. “I’ve done that before, and you’re just tearing through the store, throwing toys into carts and rushing to get back for the families. I’m glad I won’t have to do that this year.”

As of Wednesday, Fuqua had 12 volunteers lined up to assist the families with shopping today and Friday. She said that more volunteers would be helpful, and that people can just show up at the distribution center if they’re interested in volunteering.

Between volunteers and the people who donate — from people who give toys to Cash Wise, which donated shopping carts, to the Kandi Mall, which donated the space for the distribution center — Fuqua said that the Toy Shop always ends up being a true community effort.

“There are plenty of avenues for people to give,” Fuqua said. “We just want to say thank you to everyone who helped or donated. Everyone has been wonderful.”

Toy distribution at The Salvation Army Toy Shop will take place today and tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Kandi Mall Strip Center, 1605 First Street South, next to Anytime Fitness. To donate a toy or volunteer with the Toy Shop, stop by the distribution center during those hours.

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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