COVINGTON, Ky. — Andy Brunsman was all decked out in his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Christmas sweater and coordinating belt buckle when Beverly Simpson arrived at Be Concerned Inc. in Covington.
Simpson was there to shop at the nonprofit’s Christmas Store for her six youngest grandchildren. And Brunsman, the organization’s executive director, was happy to help.
They checked out items for the teenagers, perused the Disney princess dolls and discussed the merits of board games lining the shelves. When Simpson was finished, she asked Brunsman to hold hands and pray with her.
“It’s beautiful for me,” Simpson said afterwards. “I love every bit of it.”
Be Concerned served a record-breaking number of children last year through its Christmas Store, Brunsman said, helping parents and grandparents provide gifts for 750 kids. The organization serves between 400 and 500 children during a typical year, he said, and needs enough gifts for 600 kids this year based on the number of parents and grandparents who have signed up so far.
“But we don’t have a cancellation for sign-up. So families are still signing up every day that they’re in need,” he added. “We are approaching, hopefully, 700 children in need. We’ll see how it works.”
Be Concerned is one of nine Greater Cincinnati charities that make the holidays happier for kids in need with the help of Toy Team 9. This marks the 11th year that WCPO 9 has teamed up with Kroger for the toy drive, which usually culminates in toy collections at nine area Kroger stores.
Because of the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic, though, the toy drive looks different for the second year in a row. This year community members can make monetary donations at www.ToyTeam9.com, where money can be earmarked for a specific charity or given to the overall Toy Team 9 campaign. People also can donate toys to the charities in person on either Friday, Dec. 3, or Saturday, Dec. 4, depending on the nonprofit.
It’s one of many adaptations that Be Concerned has made because of the pandemic, Brunsman said, and they’re not all bad.
Holiday joy – without barriers
In years past, for example, parents and grandparents paid a small fee per child to shop at The Christmas Store. Last year, when the financial fallout from the pandemic hit so many families so hard, Brunsman said Be Concerned decided to make the shopping free for families. The organization did private fundraising, he said, to make up for the lost revenue.
Be Concerned also moved the Christmas Shop upstairs to the same level as the organization’s food pantry, which Brunsman said has made it easier for parents and grandparents to shop at a time they also are coming by for food.
“Instead of having to redo the whole physical layout of our building and asking customers to navigate between two floors, we’ve really tried to eliminate any and all barriers we can to make it as easy as possible,” he said. “Anyone who’s scheduled for a food appointment for our food pantry in December with minor children are eligible to come in and shop for two toys and a board game for each one of those children from age 0 to 17 in their households.”
Toy Team 9 helps each year by providing a wide variety of toys for children of all ages, Brunsman said. Monetary donations are especially helpful, he added.
“All the donations are terrific, but the monetary donations let us get especially stuff for those older kids between 13 and 17,” Brunsman said. “It gives us some flexibility to get things like headphones or phone chargers or alarm clocks or body wash kits and things like that.”
For supporters who prefer to donate toys in person, Brunsman said the Cars and Candy Foundation will have classic cars at Be Concerned in Covington Saturday morning during the hours people can drop off toys.
“For our handful of people that do come every year,” he said, “please come here Saturday. We’re still here. We’re still making good use of the donations that you give us, and we miss seeing you.”
‘Everybody needs help’
Simpson said she hopes more people will find a way to donate.
“Everybody needs help. We have a crisis going on right now, COVID 19, and a lot of people ain’t working,” she said. “God gives you, you give back. You know, you’ll be blessed for it.”
For his part, Brunsman said he and his organization are grateful for all the support from WCPO 9’s audience over all these years.
“We’ve survived a recession. We’ve survived a pandemic. And all of it is because of the people around us, not the people here,” he said. “From the bottom of our hearts, our board of directors and everybody who makes the work here possible, thank you … for everything that you have done, are doing and will continue to do.”
These locations will be accepting toy donations on Friday, Dec. 3:
The Children’s Home (9 a.m. to noon)
5050 Madison Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45227
The Salvation Army (8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
114 E. Central Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
WCCS Head Start Health and Wellness Center (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
333 Conover Drive, Suite A
Franklin, Ohio 45005
These locations will be accepting toy donations from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Dec. 4:
Santa Maria Community Services Joe Williams Family Center
2312 Glenway Ave.
Cincinnati, Ohio 45204
Toys for Tots Cincinnati
3190 Gilbert Ave.
Cincinnati, Ohio 45207
Butler Warren Toys for Tots
3226 Profit Drive
1100 Pike St.
Covington, Ky. 41011
799 Ann St.
Newport, Ky. 41071
4629 Aicholtz Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45244
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.