In one corner of a cavernous warehouse containing more than 5,000 Toys for Tots items Monday, a volunteer from Exchange Club of Rome tops off the air in dozens of colorful soccer balls to ensure they are just right for children receiving them this year.
Just down the concrete aisle from him, another volunteer tries to quiet an equally flamboyant macaw that mimics what it hears as she works to attach two sets of fresh batteries to the back of its box.
“It won’t stop talking,” she said with a laugh before tearing off a piece of packing tape for the four AA batteries.
And in the “booth” for boys aged 7 to 9, Exchange Club volunteer Bob Evans is making sure his area is organized and ready for other volunteers helping fill family wish lists for their children over the next couple of weeks.
“It’s amazing how hard these people work,” said another Exchange Club volunteer, Glenda Almand, who has dubbed herself “battery captain” as she ensures every battery-operated toy gets two sets of new batteries.
“Rome has such a good heart. I always love seeing how many people show up to help with this every year. And we never do see the kids’ faces when they open the gifts on Santa Claus day. We just give it all we’ve got and hope everybody appreciates it.”
Almand sang the praises of Greater Rome Toys for Tots Program Coordinator Linda Hatcher, who took over the 71-year-old effort for longtime coordinator Hal Gosnell. Gosnell can still be seen lending a hand behind the scenes, she said.
“Linda has this process down pat,” Almand said, adding she’s good at rallying fellow educators to donate their time. “We had six educators here this morning.”
Checking the wish lists twice is volunteer June Noble, who explained that once the toys are organized and ready, the process of matching the toys to the lists will be “organized mass chaos.”
“Right now I’m just hoping and praying everything goes smoothly, but sometimes there’s a missing tag or whatnot that causes confusion,” Noble said. “I’m trying to figure out how many toys I can get out at my station so they’re ready to be bagged.”
Evans said it’s always interesting to see toy trends change from year to year. This year, for instance, there are fewer guns and military-type toys and more Star Wars and science-related items.
Like a clerk in a department store, volunteers assigned to various booths or stations want to be as familiar as possible with what’s in their stations so they can be as helpful as possible for volunteers filling bags for families.
“If someone asks for a train or a Star Wars item, I’ll be able to go right to it,” Evans said, adding he will have 143 children in his age group to pull presents for.
Those wishing to help at the warehouse — the location of which is being protected to guard against theft — can contact Almand at 706-767-1755 or email Hatcher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers will work from 8 a.m. to noon between now and Dec. 13. Others also are needed to help distribute the bags of toys to families Dec. 14, although members of the Rome High School JROTC will be assisting in that effort, as well.