U Toys for Tots event helps needy children

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

Andrew Jensen and Scott Heineman waited in eager anticipation outside KB Toys at the Mall of America.

Their eyes lit up as they saw the rows of toys they could choose from.

“Oh! Transformers,” Jensen said to his friend while grabbing for the box.

“I’m getting this one,” Heineman said back, holding many of the action figures he wanted.

This time, there was no parent around to tell them they “can’t have it.”

Jensen and Heineman, both University students, were responsible for picking out toys for needy boys ages 7 to 11.

They, along with 15 other University Admissions Ambassadors, participated in a Toys for Tots charity event Tuesday night, collecting toys for kids whose parents would not be able to afford gifts for the holidays.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the residence halls coordinated a penny donation contest, which left the Toys for Tots fund-raiser with considerably less funds this year, said Amanda Hotze, a senior and Ambassador coordinator.

Through penny collections, dubbed “penny wars,” at four residence halls, the ambassadors raised more than $700, a sum far smaller than last year’s $2,000 gathered.

Middlebrook, Centennial, Pioneer and Bailey residence halls participated in the fund-raiser. In previous years more residence halls have participated.

“It’s more than I expected to get this year,” Hotze said.

To help the students get more for their money, KB Toys offered a 10 percent discount for totals over $500, said assistant manager Joseph Van Dyke.

“This helps get a lot more people to help,” Van Dyke said. “This will help a lot of unfortunate children who wouldn’t ordinarily get presents on Christmas.”

Along with helping children, the shoppers also seemed to enjoy what they were doing.

Shouts from the students about the new toys they had seen could be heard throughout the store along with their laughter.

“I’m just so excited,” said Rashaun Collins, a sports management and promotions junior.

“I might just buy this for myself,” Collins said while holding an action figure.

The students were divided into six groups with $100 each to spend, each assigned for a different age group and gender. Age groups ranged from 1- to 3-year-olds to 7- to 11-year-olds.

Jensen said he thought he had the best age group.

Brandi Beckom, a CLA junior, disagreed.

“We had the best age group: girls 7-11,” Beckom said. “There are so many more cool toys now than when we were little.”

Toys for Tots was started in 1947 by the Marine Corps Reserves. In the first year they collected 5,000 toys. In 2000 they were up to 10 million.

The Ambassadors will present their toys Tuesday to the Marine Corps collection site at KARE-TV studios.

“The Marine Corps was really excited to get our toys last year,” Hotze said. “The Marine Corps presents the toys to kids later.”

The Ambassador program includes approximately 50 volunteers who give tours to potential University students.

The Toys for Tots fundraiser is the final project the students work on before they are done with the job for the year, Hotze said.

“The most important thing I remember when I came to college was the tour,” she said. “It has a big impact on new students’ life.”

Making sure children get something during the holiday season was another impact the students wanted to make.

Six hundred dollars worth of toys – ranging from Fisher Price and Winnie the Pooh to Robotic Dogs and Harry Potter – and 11 bags later, the Ambassadors left satisfied with their day’s purchases.

“I should be home doing homework all night,” Heineman said. “But I’d rather be at the Mall of America buying toys for kids.”

Maggie Hessel-Mial welcomes comments
at [email protected]