Eight years later, The Greenbrier’s amazing Christmas charity drive is still going strong, and I am grateful that for the last three Christmases I have been fortunate enough to play a role in the Dream Tree process as a member of The Greenbrier team. Hearing the stories from organizations across the state and beyond about the children who benefit from these gifts annually fills my heart with the Christmas spirit, and I am proud to be associated with The Greenbrier and the Justice Family in this endeavor.
So, what exactly does it take to distribute $1 million worth of toys to families in need every Christmas? Let’s just say the process starts long before lights begin going up on trees.
The first step is ordering the toys. You don’t just run out to your local shopping center and purchase thousands of baby dolls or science kits. It takes planning, cooperation and a lot of space to get the toys ready each winter.
Ordering the toys is the job of Amanda Falls, a retail buyer at The Greenbrier, who begins the process in early August. While most are making one last trip to the beach or trying to squeeze in as many rounds of golf as possible, Falls is speaking with several different toy reps — those she works throughout the year, ordering toys for The Greenbrier’s toy store, Fizzy’s Land of Oz — and gives them guidelines on the types of toys she is seeking and the requirements to fit this project. For example, they have to be in a box and easy to wrap. Falls looks for a variety of toys to fit all ages and genders, from infants to 15-year-olds.
The companies put together booklets of available options fitting those descriptions, and send them to Falls, who then selects the toys and quantities she wants.
There are some negotiations involved, as well. Falls works with the companies to get the best prices, assuring that as many toys as possible can be purchased with the available money, and some of the companies are willing to go above and beyond, feeling the value of the project.
This year, Falls placed orders with 30 different companies to fill all of the Dream Tree gift needs, and those toys began arriving at The Greenbrier in October, trickling in all the way up until the distribution date.
But Falls’ job is just one piece of a larger puzzle. Once the toys arrive, they have to be wrapped and sorted, and that assignment goes to a team of 570 volunteers who worked for a total of 1,206 hours over 19 days and went through 47 giant rolls of wrapping paper to assure that the toys were wrapped, sorted in the proper spot and ready for distribution.
Nearly 4,000 gifts were placed in and around the Dream Tree for Kids display in the Upper Lobby of The Greenbrier, only a fraction of the total gifts, and the rest were housed in the Tennis Center and Golf Clubhouse to await distribution.
Where do these gifts ultimately go? Nonprofit organizations around the region sign up each year to be part of the Dream Tree for Kids project. Registration forms are posted online on The Greenbrier website, and organizations have until late October to complete the form, explaining their organization’s purpose and requesting the number of toys and age groups needed.
A week after the deadline, organizations are notified via email of the number of gifts they have been selected to receive.
As part of the process, organizations also have to volunteer to help complete the orders. For every 100 presents requested, each organization is asked to donate an hour of volunteer time to help prepare the presents for distribution. Beginning Nov. 1 all the way through distribution day, the Tennis Center is filled with the sounds of Christmas music, wrapping paper and laughter as volunteers ready the gifts for delivery. Under the direction of Holly Gillespie, who spearheads the Dream Tree project, relying heavily on the assistance of Athena Mason and Christina Brown, every toy ends up in the correct location to be handed out to the correct organization on distribution day.
In late November, organizations are notified of a pickup time and location, and in early December the gifts are all distributed in one day, as organizations send trucks, vans and trailers to pick up the wrapped or unwrapped gifts — organizations have a choice on the registration form — and take them back to their ultimate destination.
This year, the distribution day came on Dec. 10, 2018, and I was fortunate to be able to help load gifts out of the golf bag room into trucks that went to schools, civic organizations, hospitals and other charitable groups. It warmed my heart to know that these gifts would ultimately end up in the hands of a smiling child on Christmas morning.
Before the day was complete, thousands upon thousands of gifts were distributed to 122 organizations from Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. More than 800 of those toys were purchased by visitors to The Greenbrier and donated to the cause, while the rest came directly from the Justice Family, who supports this unbelievable initiative year after year.
As the toys go out the doors and into the trucks, the smiles on the faces of The Greenbrier team members who volunteer to assist with the distribution were every bit as wide as those on the faces of the children who will open the packages this Christmas. Being a part of this special initiative, it is impossible not to feel the meaning of the season and be moved by the generosity of so many who are helping to spread joy throughout the region this season.
Merry Christmas to all, and thanks to everyone who makes the Dream Tree for Kids a reality each year!