By Pete Zamplas
Ed Tatsch and Claude Powers truly made quite a splash at a donor reception last week, for The Storehouse of Henderson County’s Blessings in Boxes toy drive for more than 2,000 local children.
Powers and Tatsch each slid down the winding slide in Cascades Mountain Resort, into the pool while fully dressed. The stunt on Wednesday, Dec. 11 capped off Cascade’s toy drive as part of Blessings in Boxes, and a reception organized and hosted by Cascades Group Event Coordinator Kathy Knight.
Blessings in Boxes provided gifts — including 350 bicycles — for 2,087 children residing in Henderson County for the holidays this month, Storehouse board members Mike Helms and Knight reported. The toy drive is in a two-year peak, as 2,350 youths got presents a year ago, Helms noted.
Generally, each child’s gifts total $150 to $175 in value, Helms and Knight said. Helms said total gift value is well “north of a quarter of a million dollars.”
Kathy Knight leads Storehouse’s toy drive committee and organizes several charitable events. Lynn Hart Staggs founded the local ministry in 2000, and still runs Storehouse.
Distribution was last Friday and Saturday for gift bicycles, toys, gift cards, games, puzzles, books, school supplies, and/or shoes and clothes. Bicycles are an alpha gift, with 350 bikes among gifts, Helms said.
Recipient families came at specified times to Living Water Baptist Church in Dana. They took home closed bags of unwrapped gifts, and wrapping paper.
This gift pick-up followed a toy drive of a month and a half, and ending merely two days earlier.
More than 100 businesses in the county and also dozens of churches organized toy drives for Storehouse, retired business owner Helms said. He said one church’s congregation sponsored 150 children, and two others 50 each for Blessings in Boxes.
Donated toys were collected by the local Carolina Baptist Association, Fletcher First Baptist, Grace Lutheran, and Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church; also West Henderson High School and Rugby Middle School, Knight noted.
Businesses also with collection sites for Blessings in Boxes include: Pardee UNC Cancer Center, Caroline Albea Orthodontics, Dr. John Strickland, DDS; Cascades, Hair Gallery, Hot Dog World, Ty Keplinger/Edward Jones, David Maupin/Edward Jones, and Keller Williams Realty.
Last week, nearly 150 volunteers — triple the usual year-round volunteer work force — organized and wrapped presents, Helms said. He said some were there for most of the week. Some assembled a few bicycles, from kits.
Gift requests were honored by donors, within reason. “Many ‘angels’ come through,” which “amazes us,” Knight said.
Blessings in Boxes works this way: The recipient family writes a wish list for gifts, and notes each child’s age and gender. That info is matched with a specific donor. The child is represented by a number, to stay anonymous.
Donors choose to sponsor an entire family, or a local elementary or middle school child.
The county’s public schools refer students to Storehouse, Knight said. “The Storehouse Team goes to the public schools to interview the parents” over a month, she explained. A spreadsheet organizes such data as a child’s “favorite colors, sizes, and any special needs such as weighted blankets.”
Churches, civic groups and businesses are then contacted to step forward with donors.
The donor decides what gifts indeed to buy that are “age and gender appropriate,” Helms noted. As far as unusual requests, Knight noted a teen once asked for a tool kit. She said that obviously a computer and other pricy tech requests are above budget for this program.
By Dec. 11, about 150 toys were brought in to Cascades — conservatively estimated averaging $10 each in value and thus $1,500 total, Knight said. “Hotel guests dropped off toys. We had toys arriving daily up until the 11th. It was incredible.”
In addition, 29 people donated $3,600 total. Thus, the hotel’s effort raised about $5,100 which is $100 above the target, Knight said. A lady spoke on behalf of monetary donors Hendersonville Merchants and Business Association and the local VFW Post 5206.
Helms said this sole major fundraiser for the toy drive was Knight’s “brainchild.”
“This is my heart,” Knight told donors about the toy drive and the ministry. She later told The Tribune it “gives purpose, once again. It is also a way for me and my significant other, Claude (Powers, her fiancée), to give back to those who are less fortunate … who are in need of a hot meal, and are (financially) unable to put toys under the tree. I take a step back and am grateful for what I have, and less worried about what I do not have.”
Tatsch also contributed toy drive ideas. He runs ETS Networks IT service for businesses. Tatsch vowed to provide $1,000 in “in kind” service and slide into the pool — and he did both — if Cascade’s toy drive reached (as it did) the $5,000 target with equivalent of 200 toys averaging $25 in value.
His generosity caught on. “Claude and I are writing a check in the amount of $1,000 together, instead of giving each other Christmas gifts this year,” Knight said. Powers made good on his pledge to slide into the pool.
Tatsch devised that first “celebrity dunk” for the toy drive with a water slide, instead of dunking booth. He reasoned for a legit “dunk,” the water slider needs to wear his/her typical “business attire” — rather than shorts or a bathing suit. He wore merely one undershirt, a shirt and a sport coat — albeit with some drip-drying material. He kept on his waterproof watch, and medical alert bracelet cal alert — which did not need to go off.
The two sliders said they felt fine after their stunt. The hotel’s air temperature of 77 near the pool was merely five degrees cooler than the warm water. But when wearing soaked clothes, the temp drop felt much more startling, Powers and Tatsch said.
Still, they smiled going in. “Terrific!” is how Tatsch said the stunt felt.
Storehouse is a “Christ-centered ministry,” Exec. Dir. Lynn Hart Staggs noted. The year-round mission is “providing food and life’s most basic necessities for those in need in Henderson County.” Clothes, blankets, food, and hygiene products are among items. Christmas gifts are a bonus outreach.
Mrs. Staggs (Class of ’85) is among latest Hall of Fame inductees of her alma mater, Hendersonville High School. She is honored largely for her civic impact. When honored at homecoming, she told the football crowd how “Bearcats are taught to help others.”
Other Toy Drives
Storehouse’s center is at 1049 Spartanburg Hwy./U.S. 176. For more about Storehouse, call 693-8300.
Toys for Tots is among other long-established toy drives.
Shop with a Hero is across much of the nation, with the Wal-Mart Foundation and private donors funding gift cards. Local donors include the City of Hendersonville, Stand T.A.L.L. pro-law enforcement group, Elks Lodge 1616, and AFLAC WNC.
The Wal-Mart shopping spree of $100 per elementary youth pairs the child with such heroes as a law enforcement officer, emergency worker or military veteran.
The City sparks the effort locally for the sixth year, with regional agencies helping. Police Chief Herbert Blake noted that on Dec. 5 about 90 elementary students each spent a $100 voucher at Wal-Mart, then were treated to pizza form Guidon Brewing.
Stand T.A.L.L. funded ten of the 90 youths, and its members accompanied the youths, group Pres. Ron Kauffman said.
Student recipients were recommended by guidance counselors for a blend of financial need, civic volunteering, and leadership potential such as deterring bullying in school.