ITHACA, N.Y. — At Walmart on Wednesday, it was a child’s dream of a shopping trip as carts were filled again and again with all sorts of toys — Legos, craft kits, games, Nerf guns, art supplies and dolls. In less than a week, all those toys will be sorted, packed and put in the hands of more than 550 families in need this holiday season.
The effort and shelf-clearing is an annual tradition of Cops, Kids & Toys, a charitable organization that has been operating in Tompkins County for nearly four decades. Behind the scenes, officers from every local police agency plus many members of the community help keep the program running.
On Wednesday, volunteers were shopping for about 1,300 children, Bill Apgar, president of the Cops, Kids and Toys’ board, said.
In the early 1980s during one holiday season, two officers from the Ithaca Police Department responded to a domestic call. They went in the house and arrested a man, but found when they were inside that there was a little “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree with nothing under it, Apgar said. When police asked the woman in the house about it, they learned the children were not getting anything for Christmas. So, after that, the officers went out and collected money and brought gifts back to the family so they could have a nice Christmas.
Collecting toys for families in need became the annual tradition of Cops, Kids & Toys.
Apgar has been apart of the program for more than 20 years.
“I love it. It’s a great feeling. I know we’re doing a service to the community. There are other agencies that do it here, but I think if we weren’t able to do it, we’d have a gap,” Apgar said.
The Garden Center was the base of operations Wednesday. For several hours, carts went out empty and returned packed with toys. Walmart set up two cashiers to handle all of their purchases so they would not tie up the main registers. Walmart also provided some refreshments while they worked.
Robert Daley, manager of the Ithaca Walmart, said they help out how they can because it’s a great cause.
“Not everybody is as fortunate and whatever we can do to give back, we try to,” Daley said.
It’s a good day for business at Walmart. Volunteers typically spend more than $30,000 on toys during the shopping trip.
Cops, Kids & Toys fills a need in the community. The national program Toys for Tots led by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve does not serve Tompkins County.
After the big shopping trip Wednesday, the toys are transported to a space at the Triphammer Marketplace. There the toys will be stacked and sorted by age and gender, then over a period of about two days, volunteers will pack bags full of toys for each child. On Dec. 19, the toys will be ready to go and officers will deliver the toys across Tompkins County.
Though Cops, Kids & Toys garners the most attention during the holidays, volunteers work all year to raise money and collect toys. At Grassroots, volunteers collect cans, help at the Cornell Dump & Run Sale, host events and set up bins at about 60 locations across the county.
For more information about Cops, Kids & Toys, visit their website.