Toy drive kicks off Christmas for kids

The Great Nanaimo Toy Drive holds kick off at Woodgrove Centre

David Russell

David Russell

Woodgrove Centre’s giant Christmas treasure chest was already half full when the Great Nanaimo Toy Drive kicked off its 28th season Thursday.

The toy drive collects toys and money to purchase presents for underprivileged children in Nanaimo.

Its roots date back to 1982.

“It was a woman who had the original idea,” said Carolyn Iles, toy drive publicity director. “Her name is Dorothy Gaspardone. She was a member of Altrusa and a tireless worker.”

Altrusa International of Nanaimo was among the first organizations to come on board with the drive along with Nanaimo Fire Rescue, which provided drop off points for toy donations and firefighters who volunteered to fix and distribute toys.

Nanaimo Correctional Centre inmate volunteers were enlisted to help repair bikes and other donated toys.

Those organizations are still key players in the toy drive, but today most donations are new toys, money or gift certificates.

The News Bulletin’s annual Pennies for Presents campaign, which also kicked off Thursday, is one of the toy drive’s biggest revenue generators and the drive continues to draw new sponsors.

In July, the Nanaimo Toy Run Society held its first Nanaimo Toy Run, which drew more than 300 motorcyclists from across B.C. and Alberta and raised $4,500 in toy donations.

During Thursday’s kick-off event, Toy Run Society president Rod Rushton and Robert Menzies, vice-president, presented the toy drive with a cheque for more than $9,400 in cash donations raised from the toy run and throughout the year.

Rushton and Menzies said they learned a lot from their first event and are working up ideas to draw more riders and donations in coming years.

Each toy drive generates thousands of donations, which are sorted and distributed from the gymnasium of the former Harewood Elementary School.

In 2010, more than 700 families registered for toys, books and games that were given to more than 1,500 children in Nanaimo.

One age group the toy drive always has trouble covering is teens. This year Woodgrove Centre donated more than $1,000 to help purchase gifts for teens, but donations for the older children are always needed.

People can drop off donations at Woodgrove Centre, Nanaimo North Town Centre, Country Club Mall, Budget Storage Nanaimo locations, any of Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s fire halls and the Port Theatre.

Hockey fans can also bring plush toys to the Nanaimo Clippers game at Frank Crane Arena, Dec. 11,  for the annual Teddy Bear Toss when fans get to throw new stuffed toys on the ice when the Clippers score their first goal of the game.

Families with children newborn to 17 years old can register for toys from Nov. 28 to Dec. 7 at Eighth Street and Bruce Avenue in the former Mid-Island Co-op building.

The toy drive is also looking for volunteers to help out with this year’s toy drive.

To volunteer or learn more about the Great Nanaimo Toy Drive Society, please visit the society’s website at