Donated toys will brighten Christmas for area children

“We had 177 families participate this year,” Toys for Girls and Boys and Tiny Tots organizer Tanja Zentz said. “I got lots of thank yous and people saying how much it means to them.”

Jodi Bergman, Betty Larsen, Pam Kabboord, Dave Bergman, Missy Rossman & Tanja Zentz helped pack up toys Dec. 12 at Abide Vineyard Church. Toys are donated by community members and gifted to children whose families sign up for the Toys for Girls and Boys and Tiny Tots program.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
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Children whose families are having a hard time will be finding gifts from Santa’s helpers under the tree on Christmas morning.

This is the sixth year that Tanja Zentz and her father, John Zentz, have been the head elves of the Toys for Girls and Boys and Tiny Tots program. For several weeks, area businesses have been collecting toys community members drop off for the program. In addition, many area churches and volunteers adopt a family.

“We had 177 families participate this year,” Tanja said. “I got lots of thank yous and people saying how much it means to them.”

A special donation

The program received a surprise boost when a U-Haul full of toys was brought to Abide Vineyard Church by Mike and Tracy Torkelson last week.

Mike Torkelson arrived with a truck full of toys at Abide Vineyard Church last week. The donations were purchased with gifts from Celebration of Life services for members of the Torkelson family who passed over the past year.
Contributed / Tanja Zentz

Zentz said the toys were purchased with the Celebration of Life money given in memory of family members who had passed away including Gerald (Jerry), Margaret, David and Beth Torkelson.


Mike rented the truck to get the toys out of storage to help Toys for Girls and Boys and Tiny Tots have extra gifts to share.

“Mike comes every year,” she said. “They have donated to the program since the beginning. It’s incredible. I think his parents used to have a toy store in Duluth.”

It was perfect timing, as the truck arrived in time for gifts to be added to the distribution Dec. 15 and Dec. 16 for the 43 families who did not get adopted this year.

“I had two churches turn me down, and the drop-off boxes weren’t as full this year, either,” Tanja said. “We also didn’t get as many cash donations.”

She said more families in the community having trouble making ends meet due to high inflation may have contributed to the decrease in donations.

A whirlwind year

Zentz said this year was a whirlwind for many reasons. Besides being sidelined with a bad cold, her youngest son, Isaac Hagen, got married, so she had six relatives from Florida here.

“My dad is 90 and has also been having some health challenges,” she said.

But with the help of volunteers she pulled it off.


Toy drive coordinator Tanja Zentz (2nd from right) said dedicated volunteers like (from left) Charmaine Munt, Sandy McJunkin and Pam Kabboord make the event possible. Abide Church in Park Rapids lets the group use their space to store, package and distribute gifts.
Contributed / Tanja Zentz

“I had wonderful volunteers this year,” she said. “Six volunteers came from 3M, and that was amazing. If they hadn’t come I don’t know if it would have gotten done in time. They helped a lot. Missy Rossman, who owns the Dorset Corner Liquor Store, is an awesome volunteer. She’s been helping me for at least three years now, and they also donate cash. And Abide Church bought us lunch one day and let us use their space to store and bag the gifts.”

She said the winter storm made gift pickup at the church tricky this year. “It was a mess,” she said. “My volunteers really stepped out. Besides handing out gifts, some volunteers were out shoveling the ramp coming up to the church.”

Thousands of people came to Wadena between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day to view the Christmas in Wadena animated light show, with many of them donating to the cause.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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