When tornadoes tore through western Kentucky last Friday, hundreds of families lost their homes and belongings and had to pick up what they could salvage and move to a safe shelter. For many children, this meant they lost some or all of their toys and possessions.
The unusual December tornadoes struck just two weeks before many families’ favorite time of the year: Christmas.
First Lady Britainy Beshear announced the West Kentucky Toy Drive on Monday along with 20 locations people could donate to. By Thursday, Beshear announced that more than 70,000 toys had been donated to the drive, which runs through Dec. 18.
One of the donation sites is the Paducah Police Department. Police Chief Brian Laird told The Sun the department has received thousands of toy donations and thousands of dollars of gift card donations. Toys are piling up in the lobby, and the department has already made a couple of trips to a storage facility to free up room for more donations at police headquarters.
Laird said assisting with the first lady’s toy drive helps the department contribute in a humanitarian effort to affected communities. He has seen much support for the drive both close to home and from far away, as his office has accepted some Amazon packages that were sent for the toy drive.
“I think the Paducah community has stepped up without question,” Laird said.
Other area groups have also stepped up. Hannah Myers, Hopkins County magistrate, helped to organize the Hopkins County Make Christmas Happen to help out families who survived the tornado that touched down in the county. Myers estimated that about 800 Hopkins County homes were damaged by the tornado, and about 400 homes are a total loss.
The turnout has been outstanding for the Hopkins County drive, Myers said. She has been in contact with people from more than 50 Kentucky counties and some 35 states trying to coordinate deliveries to the toy drive. Hopkins County Make Christmas Happen on Friday received an Amazon shipment, and donations from all across the nation line up a warehouse.
Theresa Walters, CEO of US Vet Connect Inc. based in Benton is also organizing a “Toys for Tots Tussled by the Tornado” gift drive to help Mayfield and surrounding communities. The organization has been organizing this toy drive in addition to coordinating relief for frontline workers. She said the community has been “blessed” by the country and “all these giving hearts” that just want to give these kids a good Christmas. Us Vet Connect has also received a donation from Walmart, Walters said.
Walters said the main goal of this toy drive is to spread some Christmas cheer and make some kids smile.
“These kids, they’re gonna remember this for the rest of their lives. So, we wanted to make a smile,” Walters said.
Walters is also in touch with some volunteers who are working to bring a large Christmas tree to Mayfield to brighten up families’ holiday season. The organization has also coordinated Santa’s help in giving out some of the presents to kids in Mayfield and surrounding communities on Christmas Eve. Walters said the group will continue to give toys away even after Christmas until they run out.
Staff members at the McCracken County Cooperative Extension Service, affiliated with the University of Kentucky, have been taking donations of backpacks and small toys and gifts to stuff the backpacks with since Monday. Staff member Lisa Dodson said giving children and teens backpacks will help out the kids when they go back to school, and having small, portable items that will fit in the backpacks will help children who are displaced keep track of their new gifts. Backpacks will then be given out in Mayfield, Dawson Springs and to families staying at Kenlake and Lake Barkley State Parks.
Kentucky has also seen efforts from other states. Met By Love Ministries, based out of North Carolina, has a group that has been handing out supplies like food and heaters to Mayfield residents. That group is traveling back to North Carolina this weekend, and will be bringing back Christmas toys to Mayfield that have been donated to their ministry.
Krista Grigg, Lyon County finance officer, and her husband Bryan, a pastor at Macedonia Baptist Church, have coordinated with Faith Baptist Church in Bowman, Georgia, to bring presents to children and teens in Lyon, Caldwell and Hopkins counties, as well as some families in Mayfield. When parishioners at the Georgia church heard about the tornadoes, Krista Grigg said they started a fundraiser and were able to raise more than $30,000 in five hours, and now has more than $50,000 raised. Faith Baptist Church is coordinating the toy drive and will drive the toys up to Lyon County for volunteers to distribute, Grigg said.
“The fact that there’s a whole church in Georgia [organizing the toy drive] for us is such a gift,” Grigg said.
She is expecting this toy drive to serve between 200 and 250 kids and has provided the Georgia church a wish list from the families who have signed up for the drive. Each child in this drive will get a plastic bin filled with about $150 worth of toys and presents, as well as a bicycle.
Here are some Christmas and holiday toy drives where people can donate and help give kids affected by the tornadoes:
- The First Lady’s Toy Drive ends on Saturday. Donations like toys, gifts for teenagers, $25 Visa and Mastercard gift cards, gift bags and wrapping paper can be dropped off at 20 locations across Kentucky, including the Paducah Police Department. Other locations across Kentucky are available at FirstLady.ky.gov.
- U.S. Vet Connect Inc. is currently operating a Toys For Tots Tussled by the Tornado toy drive. The group will be giving out Christmas presents in Mayfield and surrounding areas on Christmas Eve. Toys and other donations to support first responders can be mailed to 313 Bent Tree Estate Lane, Benton, KY 42025. Monetary donations can be made online at usvetconnect.org.
- Hopkins Make Christmas Happen is accepting donations through Dec. 19. Donations can be dropped off at certain locations available on the Hopkins County Make Christmas Happen Facebook page. Monetary donations can be made online through Independence Bank’s website. These donations should include the comment, “Hopkins County Make Christmas Happen Gift Fund.”
- University of Kentucky’s McCracken County Cooperative Extension Service is hosting a Christmas backpack and toy relief drive through Dec. 20. The office is asking for backpacks and small toys, games, toiletries and other small gifts to put into the backpacks, which the office will distribute to children in need. Items can be dropped off at the office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or after hours and on weekends in a monitored shopping cart outside of the main entrance. The extension service is located at 2025 New Holt Road in Paducah.