We all need playtime. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Although this proverb may sound frivolous and indulgent, it’s a wise observation. Without play opportunities, human development suffers. Toys are necessary tools for play. Yet, for those living at or below poverty level, toys play second fiddle to essentials such as food, shelter and clothing.
Fortunately, the Tacoma Toy Rescue Mission recognizes the value of play for all ages and income levels. This nonprofit organization gives away toys to those who can’t afford them. Their mission is “To refurbish and recycle gently-used toys for disadvantaged children and seniors in care facilities while providing meaningful volunteer opportunities for the young at heart.” Through such efforts they help low income Pierce County residents and offer volunteer opportunities to those who crave purpose and human interaction. Basically, they rescue parents, children, seniors and volunteers from loneliness and boredom, plus prevent once-loved toy deaths at the landfill.
Their collection is varied. Books, balls, building blocks and Legos, games, cards, puzzles, dolls, stuffed animals and jump ropes are examples of their treasures. Their shelves are stocked with used and new gems acquired from donations or purchased with grant money.
Tacoma Toy Rescue Mission has touched lives in the South Sound for over 25 years. In 1990, Karol Barkley gave birth to the startup in her home’s spare room. In 1994, it became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that eventually moved to the current building that houses their workshop, warehouse and toy store.
Volunteering is often the path to board participation. I recently chatted with secretary Beth Parker and advisory board member Ben Eschinski while they worked the Toy Rescue garage sale. Eschinski got hooked after delivering donations for his employer, Half Price Books. Parker was good friends with Barkley, believed in her cause and started volunteering by cleaning toys at home.
Martha Davis, Executive Director/President
Davis became involved when Barkley asked for a donation of touch-up paint from the retail store she managed. Davis inquired why. Barkley explained she needed to spruce up 800 Matchbox cars and that she provided toys to low-income kids for their birthdays and holidays. Davis was happy to help. “Contact me if you need anything else,” she said.
Davis has been the Toy Rescue director since December 2008, following Barkley’s retirement from nonprofit. Since then she has hired new employees, formed a new board and worked to receive larger grants. In 2015, they received $250,000 in grants, which was their biggest year so far. “I had no idea how to write a grant when I started. I just taught myself,” she says. Davis readily admits that volunteers are the fuel that keeps this engine running. The nearly 100% volunteer organization couldn’t provide the Birthday, Easter, Back-to-School, Christmas and Nursing Home programs without them.
Norma L., Nursing Home Program Coordinator – Norma started at Toy Rescue by sewing and donating doll clothes. Now she ensures that disadvantaged seniors in assisted living or nursing facilities receive goody bags filled with essentials (soaps, shampoos, combs and toothbrushes) and fun items such as Christmas ornaments, costume jewelry and cards. Her program also provides lap robes for the wheelchair-bound and walker bags to help patients keep their belongings with them and their hands free. In 2017, they delivered gifts to nine nursing homes for Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. In 2016, they delivered 712 Christmas stockings. “I never know what I will find when I arrive at work,” she marvels as she inspects a donation of multicolored crocheted sombrero key chains, which will make it easier for residents to find their room keys.
Carol O., Stuffed Animal Program and Book Coordinator – Carol has been with Toy Rescue for 13 years. She’s their oldest volunteer at 85 years young. She ensures that all stuffed animals are in lovable shape by washing, repairing and dressing the previously owned. As a former school teacher, she is well suited to coordinate their book program. “I enjoy working here because it’s a way of helping people who can’t help themselves,” Carol says.
Dee D., Barbie Lady – Dee joined the Toy Rescue in July 2016. While raising two children on her own, she benefited from low income services. She was determined to give back. She started out cleaning toys, but found her niche with Barbie maintenance and repair. Having loved Barbies as a child, she enjoys cleaning, dressing, fixing their hair and packaging them. “We could really use more Barbies of color,” she mentions. “I love it here. This is my safe place away from responsibilities, stresses and judgement. We’re all here for different reasons, but the same purpose.”
To volunteer or receive services, contact Tacoma Toy Rescue online or by calling 253-460-6711.