For 10 years, the Northside Toy Drive has been spreading holiday cheer to children and families in the Texas Panhandle. What started as a conversation between friends has grown into a beloved annual fundraiser and celebration.
“We wanted to be able to give back to our community, and to be able to help children in our community for Christmas, so we decided to create the Northside Toy Drive,” said Bowden Jones, Jr., who serves as secretary of the Northside Toy Drive Board of Directors. “We had a giveaway the very first year and helped about 25 kids with toys, and we’ve grown now to our 10th year, and I believe we helped almost 2,500 kids last year.”
Each year, unwrapped toys are collected at drop-off locations throughout Amarillo for a few weeks in late November and early December. Then, in mid-December, the Northside Toy Drive hosts its annual Black Tie Affair, a formal celebration complete with dinner, live music and dancing. Attendees have the option of paying for reserved seating, but everyone must bring an unwrapped toy for admission to the event.
“We have 1,000-1,200 guests that show up to the party, and they all bring an unwrapped toy. So, we collect those toys, the toys from our drop spots, as well as the toys that we’ve purchased with the money we’ve raised during the actual campaign. All of those toys we take and give to kids in the community,” Jones said.
In addition to toys, the children also receive goodie bags, books and a lunch.
Jones said that there isn’t any kind of qualification process for the Northside Toy Drive; if a family in need comes to the giveaway, they will get a toy.
“If they show up when we have the actual giveaway, then they will get a toy,” Jones said. “We don’t ask them questions, we don’t have them do a registration, we don’t try to determine income or any of those things because it takes a certain level of pride that you have to kind of submit to be able to come and say ‘Hey, I need help.’ We’re not here to dehumanize, we’re not here to make a spectacle of anybody, we’re here to simply try and make Christmas a little more joyful for kids and for families.”
To get ready for the giveaway, the toys are taken to Palo Duro High School and separated into categories on the gym floor. When families arrive, children are paired up with volunteers and get to pick out what they want.
“One of the things that’s really special about our process is that we have volunteers that chaperone each child. We don’t allow parents with their children on the floor because parents like to influence what children choose,” Jones said. “We want children to have the autonomy to choose whatever it is they want.”
Jones noted that being able to give back to the community is a very rewarding experience.
“For me, being a part of the Northside Toy Drive is so rewarding,” Jones said. “I’m from this community, I live in this community, I work and play in this community, and I feel like there is a responsibility that I have to be able to contribute back to the community and to give back, and this is a huge opportunity to really do that.”