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Drive-thru effort jump starts Toys For Tots 2020 campaign
The day after Thanksgiving had a different feel for the first time in many, many years in Frankenmuth.
Retail shoppers were still in town, though not as many as the official first day of Christmas shopping began in the city. Thanks to the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau, along with the city and City Beautification Committee (CBC), the community has never looked better despite not having Friday’s evening’s annual Holiday Lighting Celebration and Candlewalk.
The 36th annual Saginaw County Toys for Tots kickoff did take place Friday morning, as it has for well over three decades, at McDonald’s of Frankenmuth. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the way the campaign is jumpstarted was different, yet effective. Gone was the singing of the National Anthem with flag raising, the Frankenmuth High School Penny Drive donation check (although an FHS donation is coming), live radio remotes and the hustle and bustle of the restaurant lobby as patrons fought for space among the bags and boxes of toys.
The drive took place 7-11am November 27 but not inside the restaurant. Rather, a drive-through drop off station was set up in the back-parking lot, just west of the two drive-through food ordering stations.
There to greet drivers was U.S. Marine Sgt. Kyle DuRussell of Bay City, Anthony D'Anna, community volunteers John Compton and Tim Gilmour, McDonald’s Office Manager Jill Zeddies and McDonald’s Supervisor Jack Manzullo and more, as they made stops at the table to drop off toys or cash donations. Two large trailers were already filled with toys before the event began in earnest, bound for a warehouse in Saginaw for sorting by age and gender.
As in past 30-plus years, McDonald’s owners Tony and Geri D'Anna have opened up their property for the kickoff. Robin Heise joined them again as the Toys For Tots Marine Corps coordinator.
“Well, this year was definitely different and has thrown us for a loop. We changed the kickoff event to an outdoor event due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the turnout was still successful. This was a truly humbling event to see the Frankenmuth-area communities come together to help families and children who are financially hurting,” Tony D'Anna said. “We thank every person who came through to drop off their donations.”
Zeddies called the event very amazing and humbling and felt the drive might have improved when people saw the outside station.
Zeddies note there is an Ohio man who comes to the Frankenmuth Auto Fest every year . . . and makes the trip to McDonald’s every year just to donate to the cause.
"Each year they come up just to make a day of it . . . and they did it again this year and turned around and went home,” Zeddies said.
“We also wish to thank the 17 shoppers who helped pick out toys, the six-person Friday morning team, and the many Frankenmuth Jaycees who sort the toys. We gratefully call them ‘The Walking Angels Among Us,” D'Anna stated.
Leading the 17 shoppers was Frankenmuth School District Superintendent Adele Martin and E.F. Rittmueller Middle School Principal Kristen Hecht, along with 2019 FHS graduate Drew Martin, Compton and Gilmour. This group recruited the rest of the 17 shoppers, adults and current college students, many who once helped shop for toys while in school.
“We could not ask school-age kids to help this year; that would not be responsible,” Geri D'Anna said.
A large Meijer Store trailer was parked in the back and by 8am, toys began filling in the space. Maybe because of the coronavirus, more and more persons chose to give cash or check donations this year. The good thing about money is that Toys For Tots organizers can purchase toys, games and more later in the month, filling in the needs for children by age and gender that may have not been accommodated by the actual toy donations.
People who dropped off a toy or donated at least $10 received a free breakfast entrée voucher, as a thank you for their donation. Many locals were seen driving through, as well as others who make this an annual pilgrimage to McDonald’s to do their part.
Many also turned down the free breakfast vouchers, telling volunteers to give them to those who need them more.
The campaign, headed up by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, will continue here through Wednesday, December 23.
Persons can drop off monetary and toy donations through the drive-up windows. If the toys are too big, a McDonald’s employee will meet drivers in the parking lot to retrieve the toys.
There are other donation boxes located throughout town, D'Anna said. Business who have boxes, advertising posters or both include the following, according to Geri: Allure' Salon and Spa, Bavarian Inn Restaurant, Bavarian Inn Lodge, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, Diversified Fitness Club, Frankenmuth Public Schools, St. Lorenz Lutheran School, Covenant MedExpress, Toyberg, James E. Wickson District Library, Dr. Lori Malochleb & Associates, EduPlay Discovery Center, Edward Jones (Mary Guzak office), Edward Jones (Michael Southgate office), Frankenmuth Credit Union (main office), Frankenmuth Insurance, Emil Rummel Agency, Tervis Store in Frankenmuth River Place Shops, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, Zehnder’s Splash Village and Neighborhood Mortgage Solutions.
In 2019, a total of 15,318 toys and games were distributed and 2.503 children (up to age 12) were reached in Saginaw County.
“We always get restless about coordinating this event, but Frankenmuth never lets us down,” Heise said. “Thank you just is not enough to show the gratitude of support Frankenmuth has given us.”
For more information, visit their Facebook page entitled Marine Toys For Tots – Saginaw County.