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12/1/2005 10:34 AM

Toy Drive To Benefit New Orleans Children

Jason Stern

By ROB STROUD, Staff Writer, Charleston Journal Gazette and Times Courier

CHARLESTON -- Reggie Phillips traveled to New Orleans this fall and observed the youngest evacuees of Hurricane Katrina improvising toys out of anything available at relief centers.

That sight inspired the Charleston resident to organize a drive to put toys in the hands of New Orleans parents in need. He said the toys will mean a lot to those who otherwise might not have gifts to give on Christmas morning.

“Hope is the key to their faith, to rebuild and start again,” Phillips said of the recovery effort following Hurricane Katrina.

New and used toys are set to be collected from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday in a trailer next to the Charleston Pizza Hut, 105 W. Lincoln Ave. Phillips and other volunteers hope to fill the trailer full of toys and deliver them to the Pastors Resource Council in New Orleans during the week before Christmas.

In addition, drop-off sites for the toy drive are also being offered at several local businesses.

Phillips, who operates Unique Homes in Charleston, said in early October he witnessed devastated conditions in New Orleans while volunteering alongside other Coles County residents with evangelist Billy Graham’s ministry. He saw mile after mile of severely damaged homes whose occupants had needed to leave in a hurry.

“They have absolutely nothing. They got out with the shirts on their backs, literally,” Phillips said.

The Charleston resident said there are massive efforts under way to provide clothing, food and shelter for hurricane victims, but he saw a need for collecting toys for the children.

Phillips said the New Orleans trip gave him a new perspective. Phillips said he and others have “moaned and groaned” about the simple things in life when they are much more fortunate than those suffering through a disaster.

“We are so blessed. Let’s give some of that back,” Phillips said.

The toy drive has enlisted the help of several volunteers, including Tim Yow of Charleston. He has been helping spread the word since hearing about the experiences of his friend Phillips in New Orleans. Yow said he and his family have been helping to get toys collected.

“We just think this is a worthwhile project and there is a need,” Yow said.

Businesses offering drop-off sites for toys include East Central Title, First Financial Bank, Grimes Dodge, Pearcy Sign Creation and Unique Homes in Charleston, plus The Bank and Midas locations in Charleston and Mattoon. Phillips also has recruited businesses in Tuscola, Champaign and Urbana to offer drop-off sites.

For more information on the toy drive, call Unique Homes at 345-5022 or visit www.unique-homes.net.

Contact Rob Stroud at rstroud@jg-tc.com or 348-5734.