A young girl's story on Facebook has inspired a pair of local women to organize a toy drive for Joplin children impacted by the May 22 tornado. Over the next two weeks, toys will be collected locally for Gracie's Toy Chest, an effort inspired by 8-year-old Gracie Miller, of Lanagan.
"I have been going to Joplin and volunteering and raising money for friends who live there," said Sharon Hopkins, of Cassville. "I've been through two tornados, so I know how it feels. I was looking for more ways to help when I found out about Gracie's Toy Chest."
Hopkins shared her intentions with Gracie's mother, Peggy, and then contacted Debbie Gatley, of Cassville, to recruit assistance with the local toy drive effort.
"I don't think Gracie realizes how big this has gotten," said Peggy. "Now people want to use Gracie's Toy Chest, not only to help kids in Joplin, but to help kids who have been impacted by flooding, other storms or fires. It's amazing."
According to Peggy, Gracie's Toy Chest started very small when the youngster was inspired to share toys with Joplin kids after the Miller family helped with clean-up efforts in the tornado-devastated city.
"We had a house fire in March of 2010, and we lost everything," said Peggy. "Gracie knew what it was like to lose all of her toys. She wanted to take her allowance to buy toys for the kids in Joplin, so we started by taking a few toys to a few kids."
As more and more people heard about Gracie's choice to share her own toys and purchase toys with her own money for children in Joplin, the effort grew to include toy drives in neighboring communities.
"When we handed out those first few toys, Gracie said to me, 'Mom, did you see the smile that little boy had on his face when we handed him that toy?'" said Peggy. "Now she tells me she wants to spread smiles one toy at a time."
Hopkins and Gatley hope to help Gracie spread smiles to all of the children who were impacted by the Joplin tornado. They began collecting toys for Gracie's Toy Chest on June 17 and will continue accepting new and gently used toys through July 7.
Toys can be dropped off at Designs by Debbie in Cassville from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Donations will also be accepted at the Roaring River State Park office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
In addition to toys, Hopkins and Gatley will accept crayons, colored pencils, markers and other craft materials for children.
All donations will be transported to Joplin on July 8. Gracie's Toy Chest has a large give away scheduled on July 9.
"This is a great opportunity to help make Gracie's dream a reality for children who have gone through so much," said Hopkins. "It is so cool that this little girl has such a giving spirit. Please help support Gracie's Toy Chest."
For more information, call Gatley at 847-4500 or Hopkins at 342-0986.