Elks volunteers, Toys for Tots deliver presents to thousands in Tacoma

“Our backup plan backfired,” Jessica Weaver said Saturday as she waited for free toys for her children.

Weaver, 29, has two little girls at home — 3 months and 14 months — and she’s pregnant with her third child.

She said medical complications with her pregnancy left her and her husband with no money for Christmas presents this year.

That’s why she was at the Tacoma Elks Club, where Elks members and Toys for Tots volunteers distributed toys to parents of about 5,000 children Saturday.

“We have to make sure there’s enough for food on the table and diapers,” Weaver said.

“If it weren’t for this, they wouldn’t have anything,” she said. “I just wanted something to put under the tree.”

The Elks Club was the last opportunity this year for parents to get toys from Toys for Tots. Over the past week, toys have been distributed at 12 other sites around Pierce County.

Toys for Tots coordinator George Hight said the organization had distributed toys to 22,000 children in the county so far.

The allotment is two toys per child.

Near the front door at the Elks Club, Linda Henry sat at a table, checking off names on computer printouts of lists of families deemed eligible by her employer — the state Department of Social and Health Services.

There were four catalogs of names, each 2 inches thick. Any low-income parents who receive any kind of state assistance are eligible, she said.

In Pierce County, that adds up to about 120,000 children, Henry said. “This is a county very deep in need.”

At the South Pierce Community Service Office, where Henry is the administrator, she said parents began lining up at 10 p.m. Wednesday for a toy distribution that began at 8 the following morning.

“They camped out overnight,” she said. “We had lines around our building for two days.”

The toys ran out at 2 p.m. Friday at the South Pierce CSO, she said, and many of those who missed out came to the Elks on Saturday.

Russ Harr manages the Elks toy program, called “Stocking Stuffers.” He’s been running it for 18 years.

He does it partly to help repay people who helped him when he was a boy, he said.

His father was abusive, Harr said, and he left home when he was 12 to fend for himself.

“It was so hard,” he said, “I figured, when I get old enough, I’m going to help other people if I can.”

Amber Harrell, 27, is a single parent who lives in Tacoma’s Hilltop area. She has a 4-year-old daughter and also takes care of her two nieces, ages 6 and 8. She has another daughter on the way.

Until recently, Harrell worked full time as a janitor. Her pregnancy forced her to go part time, she said.

Because of the reduced income, Harrell said, she was only able to buy one present for each of the girls.

“I got them all one thing,” she said, “but that was all I could afford.”

Thanks to the Elks and Toys for Tots, she said, all the children will have three presents on Christmas.

Harrell said her heart goes out to those worse off than her family.

“We struggle,” she said, “but I can’t even imagine being on the street.”