Toys for Tots gathering toys

Toys for Tots gathering toys

Image Credit: Submitted

Christmas may be months away, but Toys for Tots has begun gathering toys for the Christmas holiday at several locations around the area. Bob Stratton of Sherrodsville, who is heading up the charitable toy drive locally, has plenty of reasons to be thankful as the drive begins, having lost all of the donated toys last year in a fire. The story began with a simple plumbing problem.

“Dec. 8 of 2021,” Stratton said, “we had a little leak and got someone in to fix it. They were up on the roof, and apparently a torch they were using caught the roof on fire. We realized something was wrong and went outside, and the building was already in flames.”

All of the toys gathered in the months leading up to Christmas were destroyed by smoke and fire damage on the eve of distributing them to area families.

“The winds were 40 miles an hour that night, and it didn’t take long to become serious,” Stratton said. “It was such a big thing that I think every news outlet you can think of sent people to cover it.”

The coverage began an outpouring of assistance that resulted in an even larger year for Toys for Tots and local children.

“We got donations of money and toys to replace what was lost,” Stratton said. “We got checks from California, from all over. The U.S. Marine Corps replaced many of the toys we’d lost and put up money to buy more.”

The experience was a remarkable Christmas tale, turning disaster into a Christmas of joy for children and adults. “I delivered the last toys at 8:30 p.m. Christmas Eve,” Stratton said.

Generous hearts continued to help Stratton in his plight. The vehicle Stratton drives in area parades was damaged by time and use, and he took it to Francois Enterprises LLC, an auto body repair shop in Sherrodsville.

“Bob brought the car in and asked us to just do a little touch up — with a paint brush,” said Shannan Francois, who with her husband, Chester, owns the business. “It was pretty scratched up and needed some things replaced. After Bob left, my husband said, ‘Absolutely not, we’re redoing the whole car.’”

It seemed to Stratton the simple repairs were taking a lot of time. “It took more than a month to find a replacement bumper and other parts,” Francois said. “Bob kept calling and asking when it would be done, and we had to keep putting him off. He didn’t know we were doing all this. We repainted the whole car, except for the roof.”

Lightning Signs of New Philadelphia donated decals for the car. Ross Mountain Barbecue offered cash. The community came together again, in secret, to help Stratton.

“We made it nice and pretty for him,” Francois said. “When he came to get it, he was in tears. So much so that when he tried to get pictures, they were all of the ground. He was so moved by it all. Bob loves to tell the story, but we certainly didn’t do it for the recognition. We were very glad to help out. Bob does a lot for the community, especially at Christmastime.”

This year toys may be dropped off at numerous retail locations in Dover and New Philadelphia or at Stratton’s warehouse at 6034 Dana Road in Sherrodsville. Cash donations may be mailed to P.O. Box 113, Sherrodsville, OH 44675. Distribution of toys will begin at the beginning of December.