New partnership provides toys for tots

Few happy stories start with the opening of a bill. But that’s exactly what happened one day in early November to Tom Keltner, South Whidbey Toys for Tots coordinator.

A message at the bottom of his AmeriGas bill mentioning a toy drive caught the eye of Keltner, a member of the Col. Richard “Buck” Francisco Marine Corps League. He immediately sent an email proposing a partnership.

Unbeknownst to him, the Oak Harbor office of the propane company had already decided to try and do a partnership with Toys for Tots on the island the day prior, according to Kasey Witte, a customer service representative at AmeriGas.

Keltner emailed the company before Witte even had a chance to find who she needed to contact. The Marine Corps was in dire need of a new partnership after one of its biggest sponsors, Toys R Us, closed, Keltner said.

So until Dec. 19, AmeriGas customers will be able to receive a $25 credit toward their next bill if they drop off a quality gift at the Oak Harbor office, Witte said. A “quality” gift is considered to be a toy or something else for a child worth at least $25.

“It’s a wash for the costumers, they get their $25 back that way,” Witte said.

Donations made to the office will be split between Toys for Tots drives on the north and south ends of the island. The detachments also will have multiple dropoff locations spread throughout the island.

Many of the donated items will go to Holiday House, a program by Readiness to Learn, which goes from Dec. 11 to Dec. 18. If there are leftover donations, Keltner said he and other volunteers will start making house deliveries to families who requested them through the Toys for Tots website.

“We become very good grandpas,” Keltner said with a laugh.

He described moments in which a family is sitting at home on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, too worried about paying bills or for groceries to have any gifts under the tree. He loves showing up with a bag of assorted presents for that child.

“At that point, everybody’s crying,” he said.

Keltner got involved with the program in 2006, has done it every year since and said he doesn’t plan on stopping until he has to.

“I have to do it,” he said. “It’s a physical and mental therapy program for me. …. It fulfills that need to give at Christmas.”

Families who want to apply to receive toys through Toys for Tots can do so at toysfortots.org, where there is also information about the program.

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