ELYRIA — James Wells and Anna Wells arrived at The Chronicle-Telegram on Tuesday afternoon with toys for the annual Not-Forgotten Box toy drive, and a story of continuous family support that may be the longest in the drive’s history.
Anna Wells and her father, James Wells, make their annual trip to The Chronicle-Telegram's Not-Forgotten Box. For James Wells, it’s his 50th year making donations to help the chldren of Elyria.
BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE Enlarge
“We grew up dirt poor. Sometimes there wasn’t a Christmas for us,” James Wells, 67, of Grafton, said. “I don’t know who helped us back them. But this is just a way of giving back, and it started at a pretty young age for me.”
Lucy Velez, who each year coordinates the collection efforts for The Chronicle and works with the Elyria Salvation Army, said she could not definitively say the Wells family is the longest-running among supporters. But the family’s 50 years of generosity certainly is amazing considering the program is in its 60th year.
Since 1958, The Chronicle has solicited gifts for the Not-Forgotten Box in partnership with the Salvation Army. It began with one goal: To see that Elyria’s children, regardless of their family’s ability to provide, know that they are not forgotten.
In that regard, not much has changed over the decades.
Each year a goal of upward of 8,000 toys is set to help hundreds of local families who began signing up to receive assistance in early October. Maj. Bob Sears estimates about 90 percent of the toys given each year are collected through the donations of people in the community.
Each year, families are given a package of toys, gifts and books for each child 13 and younger, as well as a food basket that provides several meals.
James Wells said he first donated before leaving high school and, when he married his wife, Jackie, at 18, the couple donated together.
By the 1970s, James Wells and his eight siblings were doing so much to give back to the community that the Wells family started the Wells Family Foundation. It allowed the relatives to give a lot more.
“We were taught you are supposed to give something back even if you only have a little bit,” he said.
The tradition was passed on to Anna Wells, James Wells’ youngest child.
“She’s been helping me since she could walk,” he said.
This year, the father and daughter came with just a few toys to give. They didn’t want to miss it, they said.
“The amazing part about all of this is (my father) has recently gone through a pretty serious surgery, but he thinks about other people first,” she said.
“But I’m going to live and this will help,” added her father.
Collections for the Not-Forgotten Box continue until Dec. 15.
Donations can be dropped off 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in The Chronicle lobby, 225 East Ave., Elyria. There will be a special drop-off day 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.