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Published: Saturday, 9/25/2004

Flood of toys heads to Florida

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY - After hurricanes demolished homes in parts of Florida this summer, Brian Russell was looking for a way to help.

The Findlay businessman said it was his 7-year-old son who inspired him to launch an area-wide drive to collect new toys to take to children whose families lost their homes.

"Talking to my son, Caleb, he said he would be devastated if he lost all his toys," Mr. Russell said.

He talked with a volunteer organization in Florida, then contacted the mayor's office in Punta Gorda, one of the hardest-hit communities. Everyone he spoke with told him the same thing: no one was doing anything for the children.

With some guidance from the local Toys for Tots coordinator, Mr. Russell sprung into action, setting up a Web site and contacting businesses, schools, and organizations to start putting out the call for "Toys for Charlie's Kids," as the project has been dubbed.

"For the most part, we're asking for new toys. We did have someone bring in some used bicycles, but they were in good shape," Mr. Russell said. "One lady brought in a box of toys that were sticky and broken. These kids lost everything. They deserve better than that."

So far, he hasn't had trouble finding people who agree.

A look at his Web site, www.unicommohio.com/toys, lists drop-off points for toys from Toledo and Bowling Green to Fostoria and Lima. It also shows a schedule of high school football games where toys will be collected.

Nancy Willis, family and consumer science teacher at Oak Harbor High School, said her students are drumming up support throughout the school and community and got the two auto dealers in town to bring new pickup trucks to the Oct. 1 football game that they hope fans will fill with toys.

The students also got their principal to agree to give them a "movie morning" if they raise the equivalent of $2 for every student and staff member, or $1,260. The money raised will be used to buy toys.

"It's been good for us, and hopefully, it will be good for the children in Florida," Ms. Willis said.

Several northwest Ohio high schools have designated toy nights at upcoming home football games, including Arcadia and Findlay last night, Anthony Wayne and Tiffin Columbian, Oct. 1; Arlington and Perrysburg, Oct. 8; Upper Sandusky, Oct. 15; and Van Buren, Oct. 29. Tiffin University also will collect toys at its game Oct. 16.

Mr. Russell said he hopes to collect more sports equipment, which is appropriate for boys and girls. He has plenty of stuffed animals, he said, but could use more games.

A trucking company has offered to drive the toys down to Florida - most likely in November - and Mr. Russell said he plans to go to Florida and work with local churches and possibly radio stations to start the job of distributing the toys.

"We're going to start in Punta Gorda and go from there. We're working on distribution right now with them," he said. "One idea is to do a cookout and let kids come out, and we'll pass out age-appropriate toys."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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