SYCAMORE – Sycamore streets at 7 a.m. Sunday were almost empty – except for the parking lot in front of Blain’s Farm & Fleet on DeKalb Avenue.
A group of about 20 American Legion Riders and Marine Corps League members had parked their motorcycles and cars in front of the store. They talked in a loose circle, waiting to be let in.
During the past several months, the ALR had collected about $10,000 to spend on toys, games, books, electronics, tool kits and more for DeKalb County children in need during the holidays.
The total gathered was about $2,000 more than what was raised in 2018. The toys, worth between $5 and $25 each, will be distributed through the DeKalb branch of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots.
“Toys for Tots has been a Marine Corps thing for years,” said Rachael Hartman, president of the Sycamore Women’s Auxiliary for the Marine Corps League. “It’s nice to be able to help out the less fortunate with toys and educational items.”
Last year, 2,433 children received gifts from the program. That number is expected to rise this year.
“We’re working with our agency to make sure that the gifts reach the kids affected by the Sycamore/DeKalb fires,” said Kathi Davis, coordinator of the DeKalb County branch of Toys for Tots.
Davis was referring to families displaced from their homes in a series of fires in DeKalb and Sycamore this past summer.
“Keeping it local is so important,” Davis said.
The importance of that sentiment echoed throughout the morning. It was emphasized by James Brantley, a 55-year-old Marine Corps League member who also serves as assistant director to the DeKalb American Legion Riders. He said that “keeping it local” is why he chose to shop at Blain’s Farm & Fleet as opposed to another large corporation.
“We want to shop local because they did donate to the [toy] run, and we want to give back to them,” Brantley said.
The toy run traditionally is an hourlong group motorcycle ride aimed at raising money for the Toys for Tots shopping. Brantley, who is director of the run, said he was happy with the $2,800 raised Sep. 21 despite a smaller turnout from rainy weather.
“Shopping local – that’s just us,” Brantley said. “This way, the money stays local and helps the community.”
The ALR planned to spend $8,000 at Blain’s Farm & Fleet, which had arranged to open two hours early to support the event. The store also gave the group a 5% discount and covered sales tax on the purchases.
“Farm & Fleet has nicer toys and tools and stuff, too,” Davis said. “Not all our kids are going to college, so tool sets are nice. Some other counties stop at age 14, but we go through age 18. We figure if they’re in high school, living at home, why shouldn’t they get gifts, too?”
After spending several hours shopping at Blain’s Farm & Fleet, the ALR planned to grab breakfast as a group and then spend an additional $1,000 on gifts at Sycamore’s jewelry and lifestyle store, Sweet Earth.
Toys for Tots will continue to collect gifts from the community until mid-December, when donations will be sorted and prepared in time for Christmas.
Between the purchases made by the ALR and other gifts donated through 120 boxes set up about the Sycamore/DeKalb community, Toys for Tots seeks to exceed the 8,885 toys distributed figure in DeKalb County in 2018.
“This year was an extremely good year,” ALR Director Don Paulsen said of the amount of money his group raised for the event. “If the need comes up, our goal is to have the funds available to help support a veteran, or someone in the community who needs assistance. And we’re doing that today.”