Chamber of Commerce board members step up for Toys for Tots

The Open Mic family at Lazy Hiker presented a check for $1,500 to Randy Hughes of Toys For Tots of Macon County. Pictured (L-R) are Sonia Brooks, Pete Mosco, George James, David Wilson, Dave Patterson, Gary Carter, Randy Hughes, Jay Baird (with Henry), Dave Dexter, Diane Chermer, Shawna Maxwell, and Melinda Pennington.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer 

Randy Hughes has been diligent in collecting for Toys for Tots over the years.

Smoky Mountain Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM’s sales and finance manager Tiffani Tallent, has been involved for many year with Toys for Tots. When, as a Chamber of Commerce board member, she found out that Toys for Tots might not happen this year, she stepped up, along with several other board members, to make sure that it did.  

Tallent, a native of Franklin, explained that she was involved in the organization while working for other automobile dealerships in town that hosted Toys for Tots car shows to raise money and encourage toy donations.  

A Toys for Tots donation box is set up at the Franklin Area Chamber of commerce and in many business across Macon County. The chamber is located at 98 Hyatt Road.

I heard that the program coordinator for Macon and surrounding counties for the past several years, wouldn’t be able to do it anymore,” she said. “So I talked to other members and we agreed that we didn’t want to see this program not be available to children in need. We decided to make a go of seeing that Toys for Tots was successful again this year for kids.”

Toys for Tots was founded by a United States Marine Corps reservist in 1947 as a way to make sure underprivileged children received toys at Christmas. However, the volunteer-run organization has grown so that when families lose homes due to fires, accidents, and natural calamities, it can also replenish and provide toys for affected children year-round, not just at Christmas. Besides toys, Toys for Tots donates books through a 10-plus-year-old collaborative literacy effort with Scholastic, Inc. 

Tallent said Foxfire Heating and Cooling’s Andrew Huscusson, who also serves on the Chamber’s board, as well as Brian Robinson of Select Bank, and other members, have been instrumental in making sure the needs of 300 families, which represent 700 children, are met this Christmas.

“We’ve distributed toy donation boxes all over the county,” said Tallent. “They are at stores and local businesses. And we are asking people to fill them.”

Registered Toys for Tots families will pick up toys for their children, upwards of four toys each, on Dec. 18 and 19 at Foxfire Heating and Cooling. 

“All the toys are being held in Foxfire’s warehouse space,” said Tallent. “And Andrew has used his vehicles to pick up toys and advertising dollars to get the word out. We are coming alongside him, but his efforts have been a huge component of this.”

A toy drive at Wal-Mart on Sunday, Dec. 5, generated many toy donations. 

Added Tallent, “I think it’s a worthwhile effort. I was born and raised in this community and I have children and I love our town. There is something to be said for local people helping local people, for this level of community involvement. And to know how many children Toys for Tots services … I couldn’t stand the thought of children not getting anything for Christmas.”

Tallent said that although she and other volunteers have overseen Toys for Tots for 2021, an individual or organization needs to take over the local Toys for Tots effort for 2022 and beyond.

“All of us on the Chamber board who have helped this year have full time jobs, so we would like to see Toys for Tots be taken on by someone, or a group, who can really devote time to planning, logistics, and legwork.”