Donations needed for Toys for Girls and Boys and Tiny Tots

In the six years Tanja and John Zentz of Park Rapids have been running Toys for Girls and Boys and Tiny Tots, more families than ever before are reaching out for help.

Tanja Zentz and her father, John Zentz, took over the Toys for Girls and Boys and Tiny Tots program six years ago. Tanja also receives help from her sons, including her second oldest son, Kalvin Hagan.
Contributed / Tanja Zentz
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In the six years Tanja and John Zentz of Park Rapids have been running Toys for Girls and Boys and Tiny Tots, more families than ever before are reaching out for help.

More than 150 families signed up for the program at the American Legion the first two Saturdays in November.

“There were quite a few families this year who said they had done it in years past, but hadn’t taken advantage of the program recently,” Tanja Zentz said. “With more referrals still coming in I think we will have one of our biggest years.”

Reasons why families need the program vary.

“There were comments about high food and gas prices and rent, too, for those who can’t get into subsidized housing,” Zentz said. “There are people who have jobs and are working hard, but just can’t make ends meet. Back 25 or 30 years ago, people could work at the hardware store all their life and feed their family, but nowadays you can’t do that.”


A family project

Tanja’s father, John Zentz, turned 90 in October and is no longer to go out and collect toys from boxes, but he still does what he can to help.

“We enjoy this program because we get to give back to the community,” she said. “My dad says it brings him joy to be able to make Christmas a little better for so many by giving gifts to those that may not otherwise get any. I personally enjoy seeing the generosity of the community, and it warms my heart to see so many that want to help each year. Either by volunteering their time with the toy drive or giving gifts, so many each year reach out to me and want to help.”

The toy drive relies on volunteers to make it a success.

“My oldest son, Alex Ziemann, attended the first sign up with my dad and will also be helping with the toy pickup this year.” she said. “We also have some great volunteers. Dave and Jodi Bergmann also helped pick up and store toys last year and they will be doing it again this year. Dad hears all about it and likes to know how it’s going.”

Families who have a special need and weren’t able to come to sign up may call or text Tanja at 218-255-6056.

Community members are needed to adopt families and purchase gifts on their wish lists.

“Families who aren’t adopting a family can drop gifts in any of the boxes around town or donate to the toy program through the TruStar in Park Rapids or Nevis,” she said. “They can also call TruStar and donate over the phone or go in the drive through. They are also collecting gift cards for us.”

New toys should be brought to collection boxes in Park Rapids by Monday, Dec. 12, although gifts will be accepted as long as boxes are up and given to families who have a last-minute need.


How to give

New toys may be dropped off in boxes at the American Legion, Hugos, Coborns, ACE Hardware, Walmart, Walgreens Jake’s Barber Shop, Deblieck Tire and Auto, NAPA Auto Parts or Marie Luetmer State Farm at 301 1st. St. East on Hwy. 34.

At State Farm, anyone who brings in a gift or gift card for the toy drive will receive an ornament. TruStar Federal Credit Union offices are accepting cash donations and gift cards through Wednesday, Dec. 14.

Cards to McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway are popular with teens. Gift cards to other local stores are also needed.

Volunteers are needed to help bag up gifts for children at Abide Church on Hwy. 34 in Park Rapids Dec. 12-14. Call Zentz for more information.

The Park Rapids church created space in visitors' imagination for the story of Jesus' birth.

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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