Bringing joy to families through toys
Newberg firefighters and volunteers are gearing up for the annual Toy and Joy tradition, bringing children's toys and Christmas spirit to local families.
Christmas Eve will bring the culmination of an effort that ramps up planning in October, but which is on the minds of the fire department throughout the year. Fundraising for toy purchases starts each year with the fire department pancake breakfast in May and continues with a golf tournament in early fall.
The closing stretch kicks off just after Thanksgiving, when the program begins accepting applications and sets up "Toyland," the fire department space dedicated for toy storage, organization and wrapping.
On Sunday, Christmas Eve, the toys that have filled Toyland will be delivered out into the community by a fleet of vehicles.
"Christmas Eve delivery begins around noon, the whole station is taken over by boxes of toys and department members who are staged to deliver presents to hundreds of families," said Stefan Myers, public affairs officer for Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue (TVF&R).
Toy and Joy has been put on each Christmas since 1929. This is the second year the Newberg program has operated through TVF&R rather than the Newberg Fire Department (NFD), as TVF&R began a trial period providing fire service for the city in mid-2016. But despite that shift the program went "very smoothly" in the first TVF&R year, said Ben Erb, a former NFD firefighter and "Head Elf" in charge of Toy and Joy. The only real difference was a variety of new faces taking part in the program.
"While change was happening within the department, our goal was to make sure the kids and families didn't notice any difference," Erb said. "This year we are pretty much doing the program the same way we have for years."
This year, about 135 families are signed up for the program. The number of families receiving toys has gone up and down over the years, and according to TVF&R, the amount of applicants often corresponds to the economy. It's gone as high as 400 families during the economic downturn in the 1980s, but often averages around 300. Last year was slightly lower, with a little more than 160 families signed up.
"Like other neighboring programs we have seen a decrease in the amount of applicants, we are hopeful that it because families are doing better and can provide on their own," Myers said.
All in all, last year's effort had more than 900 children receive multiple Christmas gifts through the program.
Toys are collected and purchased throughout the year, made possible by monetary donations but also by a host of weekly donations by caring community members and local businesses, Erb said.
Each year brings a new set of popular toys. This year's hot items include Shopkins, Hatchimals, Legos, "and even a couple drones," Erb said.
But there are also the items that remain popular year after year. Toy and Joy receives requests for bicycles every year, and is often able to meet the demand, Erb said. Last year the program received 45 donated bicycles; this year that figure jumped to nearly 70.
Erb first took on the core role of Head Elf in 1970, he recalled, when the city manager handed him a book of information on Toy and Joy and christened him as the program's new leader.
"Now we have computers and a pretty tried and true process, but I used to do it all by hand, with no computers, and would be up until two in the morning getting everything organized and checking to make sure everyone child had a gift," Erb said.
As for what's kept him volunteering for so many years, Erb simply points to the end result that comes from all of the hard work.
"I just really like kids and knowing that on Christmas morning there are going to be lots and lots of smiles across Newberg makes it all worth it," he said.