Jeff Welker and Eric McCracken pose with the official Toss A Toy truck and some of the toys already donated. (DHI Media/Sherry Missler)
Jeff Welker and Eric McCracken pose with the official Toss A Toy truck and some of the toys already donated. (DHI Media/Sherry Missler)

VAN WERT — Eric McCracken of Lee Kinstle Sales and Service started the Toss A Toy program about six years after Toys for Tots informed the local Toys for Tots director, Toys for Tots would no longer service Van Wert.

“Lee Kinstle’s had always been a big supporter of it. We had always done a lot: collecting toys, raising money, whatever it was. We were always behind it,” McCracken said.

When the local director notified McCracken of Toys for Tots decision, he hesitated on what to do, but not for long.

“At first I was kinda taken aback by it,” said McCracken. “I thought about it over night and I decided we would just do our own thing. I knew I could collect the toys. We could get as many toys as we needed but the distribution part would be the tough part.”

McCracken contacted Chris Roberts at WERT about his idea.

“We talked the next morning and he said, ‘I think you should do it, and I think you should contact the Salvation Army and see if they will distribute the toys,’” said McCracken.

Art and Judy Barter, who ran the Van Wert Salvation Army at that time, were excited about the plan.

“Judy organized how to distribute the toys and we organized how to collect them,” McCracken said. “The best part is that anything that is collected for the kids stays local. There’s more need in Van Wert then we know.”

He urged anyone who knows of children who could benefit from this program to contact the Salvation Army to get them put on the list.

A number of businesses, groups and individuals have gotten on board.

“Vantage Career Center, Central Mutual, Braun Industries and Walmart really get behind this to support it.” McCracken said.

He added that such organizations raise money throughout the year, then take the money to buy toys. He continued that some Vantage students even make toys.

Jeff Welker, manager at the Van Wert Walmart Store, had known McCracken for a few years so McCracken approached him about helping out the program. Welker offered what has come to be known as Toss A Toy Day at Walmart.

“Last year, Jeff was kind enough to offer up a 50 percent discount for a limited number of hours on a Saturday,” said McCracken. “People came in there and bought toys, electronics and things and just supported it like crazy.”

This Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Walmart will once again offer a discount to people who purchase toys for Toss A Toy.

“They (customers) designate at the register that this is going to Toss A Toy, the cashier separates it and it goes into a different cart. When the cart gets enough in it, we take it out and start loading trucks up,” McCracken said. He added that he already has about 15 volunteers to assist with loading.

McCracken said anyone who wants to help can get involved.

“Donate a new, unused toy or host the truck at your place of business,” he said. “Purmort Brothers, the YMCA, the YWCA, Shrader Realty, Van Wert Federal Bank have it for a day. They park the truck out there so people can throw toys in it while it is there.”

He added that anyone who doesn’t want to shop or is unable to do so can still help.

“We’ll shop for them,” said McCracken. “They can contact me. My cell phone number is 419-203-1186.”

Once a truckload is gathered, it is taken to the Salvation Army.

“I think a lot of credit goes to Eric, he has been just all over this,” Welker said. “I’m happy to be involved again this year.”

“Toss A Toy is for the kids, but it brings out the best in the community,” McCracken noted. “We don’t want any kid not to have a Christmas. The magic of the whole thing is that it stays local.”