By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 30, 2018
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) -- Santa had some helpers in Valdosta this year after devastation hit Valdosta Toys for Tots.
In May, hundreds of toys were stolen from the Toys for Tots warehouse, leaving the organization wondering how they were going to bring Christmas to South Georgia children in need.
The warehouse, once filled, was left almost empty. More than 600 toys and 500 more stocking stuffers were taken. But in the months since, the community has responded in a big way.
"To have people come out, I mean I was in tears," said Valdosta Toys for Tots Coordinator Lisa Hayden. "I was crying because I got broke in to, and then I had tears of joy because people came out and helped."
Donations began pouring in from all across Lowndes County. Several organizations helped by planning toy drives at events like car shows and motorcycle drives.
Now, the warehouse is lined with toys, all of which replaced, and then some.
"It makes it really good. I mean, I don't have any grandchildren, don't have any at all. So all of these kids are my grandchildren, I just love them," Hayden said.
The donations are coming at a crucial time. Toys for Tots said the applications for gifts nearly doubled from last year, totaling nearly 900 children in need of presents in Lowndes, Echols and Clinch Counties.
Toys for Tots is hoping to give a toy to every one who needs it.
"It's for the children, and we're not doing anything but toys," Hayden said. "We're giving hope to every child, we're making them smile."
More opportunities to give toys are still ahead. Georgia State Patrol will be holding a toy drive on Saturday at the Walmart on Inner Perimeter Road in Valdosta. Troopers are scheduled to be at the store from 8:00am-12:00pm.
GSP has been helping Toys for Tots for ten years now, and hope this is the biggest year yet.
"That's what we want, we want the community involvement," said Cpl. Ryan Harding. "We want to show that we're not just people sitting behind the blue lights, we're part of the community. We're here to help."
Donations can also be dropped off at several businesses and organizations across Valdosta. Toys for Tots will be picking up the boxes on December 14.
The deadline for families to turn in applications to receive toys is Saturday.