ELYRIA — Many things have changed since 81-year-old Ed Murphy retired from The Chronicle-Telegram, but one thing has stayed the same.
The Not-Forgotten Box is still helping children in Elyria, just as it did when he helped start the project 54 years ago. As community members cruise toy aisles in search of the perfect truck, doll or game to donate, few are likely thinking of the history of the Not-Forgotten Box. But Murphy — a man who still calls Elyria home and reads The Chronicle every day — said he will never forget because the Not-Forgotten Box was his baby.
He didn’t act alone. Each year, fulfilling the wishes of Elyria children was a daunting task the Salvation Army, the Chronicle-Telegram and the public took on as a team effort. But Murphy was there from the beginning.
“We were going to do some baskets for people in the community as a good gesture, and then it turned into us going to the orphanage in Oberlin,” he said. “Surprised us, but the director told us the kids there got everything they needed for Christmas. They weren’t real orphans. They all had parents. They just didn’t pay them any attention until Christmas.”
Murphy said the project became about the Elyria children of struggling families in need for Christmas. The idea was to help the kids who probably wouldn’t get a present otherwise because there was not enough money to go around.
“It just grew from there, and I can say the public always participated and helped,” Murphy said. “I think it’s outstanding that after all these years it is still taking care of a lot of kids. We worried if there was going to be enough every year right up to the end, but there always was.”
Organizers who have since taken over the reins of the annual toy drive — Murphy retired in the mid-1990s from the position of human resource manager — are hoping this year will be the same. The wishes of 1,100 families hang in the balance, said Salvation Army Major Alice Sears, who runs the organization with her husband, Major Bob Sears.
“That is slightly down from last year, but we still have a lot of families in the community that are in need,” Sears said.
Sears said the organization has signed up all the families it can this year, which was done during October. Now, it’s time to live up to the promise of a merry Christmas.
More than 8,000 toys will be needed by Dec. 12 so gift packets can be distributed in time for Christmas. Fewer than 900 toys have been donated thus far.
The deadline may appear to be earlier than in previous years, but it’s not easy for volunteer helping hands to assemble thousands of gifts.
In previous years, Elyria residents walked through the Salvation Army’s gymnasium that was set up for a personal shopping-style experience, but now that work is done by the Salvation Army, which allowed it to cut down on the volunteers needed as well as the days it takes to distribute toys.
“It has worked out excellently,” Sears said. “A lot of people were tired of waiting two or three hours to go through to collect their items. Parking was always a nightmare, and we had so many people coming through that it took us two days to distribute everything.”
This year’s distribution day is Dec. 21.
The Salvation Army’s Christmas assistance program helps Elyria children from infancy to 14 years of age. But Sears said the greatest need is for boys and girls ages 12, 13 and 14 years old. Toy options for that age group include mp3 players, cologne sets, nail polish kits, make-up sets, footballs and basketballs among other items.
“Most people like to buy toys for little kids and when you get to the older kids they get passed over because no one knows what to buy them,” Sears said.
Lucy Goldsmith, customer service supervisor for The Chronicle and the Medina Gazette said collections have been slow — Thursday’s haul was less than 40 toys for the day. But everyone knows the history of how Elyrians have always rallied behind the toy drive so no one is worried — yet.
“We always make it,” she said. “We will have toys coming in the door and going out to the Salvation Army at the same time.”
In an effort to spur some generosity, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday coupon queen Rachel Krych, who serves up savings and coupon tips in a weekly column, will be on hand for a meet-and-greet. It will be a great time for residents to drop off a toy and a nonperishable food item while also meeting Krych and possibly picking up a quick couponing tip.
Both the toys and the food will be distributed.
While serving as Santa’s elves, Sears said volunteers also pack food baskets for local families that include a turkey and enough food to last three to five days.
“We are just trying to carry them over those days when kids are not in school,” Sears said.
Murphy said he knows how Sears may be feeling now.
“We always worried until the last minute like they do now, but the people always came through,” he said.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.