“When you go door-to-door, you see a lot of needs,” Nolen said.
So four years ago, when he was in Atlanta and met a staff member of Toys for Tots, sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps, he requested some toys for Cleburne County children. Four days before Christmas, the organization sent him toys for 880 children. He contacted local churches and the fire departments, and they distributed the toys from the back of a pickup truck, he said.
The next year, he partnered with Forte Power Systems, Cleburne County Schools and the group Helping Every Area Resident Succeed, or HEART, to do an official Toys for Tots collection and distribution, Nolen said.
The collection has grown over the years and last year, local donations contributed 42 percent of the Cleburne County gifts, he said.
This year there are collection boxes at the Cleburne County Courthouse, Small Town Bank, WM Grocery, Piggly Wiggly, Fred’s, Buster Miles Ford and Chevy stores and Dollar General stores in Hollis and Heflin, Nolen said.
And Thursday, Forte employees parked a semitrailer truck in front of the old post office on Ross Street in Heflin to accept donations. Volunteers will take donations from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, said Kristi Smith, human resources manager at Forte.
Cheryl McBrayer, a Forte employee, was manning the donation station at the truck Thursday afternoon. Standing under a tent as the afternoon rain pelted the street, she said she had collected about 48 toys in her three hours at the truck.
“It’s been in spurts,” McBrayer said. “We had one gentleman come by and gave a very generous donation … maybe eight or 10 toys.”
Smith said Toys for Tots Foundation provided 585 children in Cleburne County with Christmas gifts last year. All the applications aren’t in yet, so she was unsure how many requests there were this year, she said. The goal is to collect 500 toys, Smith added. If someone doesn’t have time to shop for a toy, the volunteers can also accept a cash donation and provide a receipt, Smith said.
The toys collected in Cleburne County go to Cleburne County children, she added. The county especially has a need for toys for children between the ages of 10 and 14, Smith said.
“Most of the time, older children are the ones who are overlooked,” she said.
Footballs, basketballs, make-up kits or hairbrush kits are gifts those children often ask for, Smith said.
Families applied to receive toys through the Toys for Tots program at the schools. But there’s still time to apply by calling Rex Nolen at 256-463-0426. There are also applications at the Cleburne County Water Authority and the courthouse, Nolen said.
The pick-up date has yet to be scheduled, he added.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.