In mid-October Diana Stirling learned Penticton’s Toys for Tots to Teens toy drive was not going ahead so she decided to step up to the plate.
With only weeks left before the event usually takes place, Stirling managed to get a major sponsor in Gateway Casinos and Entertainment Ltd. to come on board.
As a result, the first annual Gateway Gives & LocoLanding Community Toy Drive will take place at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre on Nov. 26.
From 6 to 9 a.m. that morning those who bring in a new, unwrapped toy will be treated to a hot, sit-down breakfast, enjoy the sounds of the season provided by children’s choirs and even a photo with the Jolly Gent himself.
According to Stirling, like its predecessor, held annually at the Lakeside Resort since 2001, it’s an opportunity for people to come together in the spirit of the season to make Christmas morning a little brighter for over 1,500 less fortunate South Okanagan kids.
The toys will be distributed to 16 not-for-profit agencies and given to pre-registered families.
“When I was made aware the Lakeside event was unable to able to continue this year, something that has gone on for 21 years in this town, I took a few days to make sure I could take it on,” recalled Stirling who owns LocoLanding. “But I stepped forward knowing Penticton… knowing the community always rallies for a good cause and I’ve had nothing but the doors opened from people wanting to help.”
Her first task was to find a major sponsor and she approached Jerry Pokorny, Gateway’s executive general manager.
“I wanted to partner with a great company so we could still offer a hot breakfast and still have that community-feel event,” said Stirling.
According to Pokorny, she didn’t have to ask twice.
“We automatically jumped at the opportunity and we started moving forward, there wasn’t even a ‘should we do this moment,’ it was how do we make it happen,” he said. “Especially at Christmas when I hear that there are thousands of kids who might not be part of that celebration, that’s what we’re trying to fill here.
“This will be a fantastic event. I see this as the first of many years to come and at the end of the day we’re just trying to give back and make it a wonderful Christmas for the kids.”
Someone who knows first hand the importance of these gifts is Debbie Scarborough, executive director of the South Okanagan Women in Need Society.
“I believe most of us have felt immense disappointment and hurt in our life so we could imagine what it would feel like when a child wakes up to not one toy under the tree,” said Scarborough, whose agency will receive some of the donations. “Without receiving these toys it was going to be a lot harder for us to provide gifts for children who might have only received these one or two gifts.
“Diana decided to create a toy drive without a blink of an eye — it is heartwarming. For Diana – it became a mission and she is pulling it all together.”
Penticton RCMP and Penticton Fire Rescue, as they have in past years, will be helping out on site that morning along with many other volunteers
According to Stirling, the Lakeside has since been “incredible” in helping her take on the huge project.
One addition Stirling has made this year to increase donations is to get corporate involvement by dropping off large stockings at local businesses.
As well, the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce office at 553 Vees Dr. will be a gift drop-off location for people unable to attend breakfast.
Empty stockings can also be picked up and full ones returned there.