LAGRANGE — Two groups within the community are vying for floor space inside local businesses for toy box donations.
For the 17th year, the Keystone girls softball team is collecting toys for children of LaGrange.
The toy drive kicked off Monday throughout LaGrange, with the drop-off locations being primarily the three public schools on Opportunity Way. Toys are being collected through Dec. 14.
The drawback, according to Coach Jim Piazza, is that there are two organizations in LaGrange vying for box space and toys.
In October, Mayor Kim Strauss announced Toys for Tots moved its Lorain County headquarters to LaGrange. Since the move, signs have been posted around town telling residents where to drop off toys.
And that is hurting the softball players and their endeavor to continue helping residents of LaGrange, Piazza said.
“In the past, we have called it Toys for LaGrange, but now there are signs up on the LaGrange Square for Toys for Tots and people are getting confused,” Piazza said.
Previously, businesses around LaGrange offered the softball players space to put up their decorated boxes, but this year, they are competing for floor space with Toys for Tots.
Strauss said the toy drives should not be viewed as a competition.
“They are both phenomenal programs,” Strauss said. “Toys for Tots, all they want to do is take care of the needs of the community. And the girls softball program does the same thing during Christmas. They are both good programs.”
The softball team’s toy drive coincides with the LaGrange Lions Club Holiday Cheer event in December. For the past 20 years, the LaGrange Lions Club has hosted the event in which it provides boxes of food to those families in the Keystone school district who are registered with the Lions Club Food Pantry.
Piazza said the softball players look forward to the toy drive and family-style Holiday Cheer breakfast every year.
This year, the breakfast/toy distribution will be Dec. 16 at the LaGrange Lions Club, 240 Glendale St. Families must be registered with the LaGrange Lions Club Food Pantry in order to receive the complimentary meal and toys.
“The girls just love it. They love everything about it from wrapping the big boxes to getting dressed up for the breakfast,” Piazza said.
While the idea of the toy drive is to instill the importance of community service in the players, Piazza said it goes beyond making boxes and collecting toys.
“We teach them that they can be winners on the field, but that they have to be winners off the field, too. We want people to know that this is more than softball. Softball is just a sport. This is life,” Piazza said referring to the toy drive.
Last year, more than 1,500 toys were collected and given to more than 200 families from LaGrange.
“These toys never leave LaGrange, unless there are extras,” Piazza said. Extra toys are then donated to a local woman’s shelter and/or a children’s hospital.
Lions Club rental manager and member Bev Fox said there are still people in LaGrange who need help.
“The problem is, people who donate don’t realize that we are not the same as Toys for Tots,” Fox said. “Everything donated to us stays in LaGrange. Toys for Tots is a great organization, too, but the toy drive is important for the LaGrange residents. The Keystone girls softball team collects gifts for the family, and sometimes, that is the only Christmas the family may have.”
As a way to ensure there are enough toys for the children of LaGrange, the LaGrange Lions Club will have a donation box noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the IGA on Sentinel Square and noon to 4 p.m. Nov. 24 at the LaGrange Lions Club, 240 Glendale St. The boxes will not stay at these locations. These are just days the LaGrange Lions Club will be manning the boxes, Fox said.
Strauss added that other public opportunity to help the LaGrange Lions Club will be held during the annual Christmas on the Square in LaGrange, starting at 5 p.m. Dec. 2. On that day, residents are asked to bring toys to “Stuff the Cruiser.” All the toys donated will be given to the LaGrange Lions Club.
This year, the Keystone girls softball team decided to name the event after a student who loved all things Christmas — Kayden Williams. Kayden died Dec. 27, 2017, as the result of a single-car accident. He was a junior at Keystone High School.
In a joint statement, Keenan and Sarah Williams, Kayden’s parents, said they are honored the Keystone girls softball team would name the toy drive after their son.
“He loved to give at Christmastime,” they said. “Christmas is about bringing people together and making kids smile. Hopefully everyone remembers that.”
Kayden’s Christmas Toys for LaGrange will go through Dec. 14. If anyone would like to have a donation site in a business for Kayden’s Christmas Toys for LaGrange, call Piazza at (440) 225-6941.