Figaro’s Restaurant, local charity partner up to benefit needy children

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By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

Santa’s Port Huron helpers almost have more toys than they know what to do with.

Only almost. They are going to give them to kids.

“We’ve been doing it for 22 years, and last year we had almost 10,000 toys,” Jim DeArman, vice president of Toys for Kids Inc., said. “This year we have approximately 20,000 toys, so I believe it’s going to be a great Christmas for the children.”

Arthur Payne, owner of Seekers bar on 24th Street, created the nonprofit Toys for Kids Inc. in 1993. He ran the toy giveaway out of his establishment for years.

When it got bigger, it spread into the storage space above Figaro’s Restaurant and Lounge on 11th Street. When it grew some more, distribution moved to the American Legion on Sixth Street.

That’s where volunteers will be beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday, handing out toys to needy children.

Volunteers converged at Figaro’s Monday morning in preparation for Wednesday’s big giveaway.

“They have more toys than what they gave away last year,” Marv Guske, owner of Figaro’s, said while watching the various trucks and trailers being loaded with bags of toys that had been stored in his restaurant. “It’s good what they’re doing here, because these kids need something for Christmas. Hopefully, they learn how to give and become good citizens.”

Volunteers created an assembly line to move the donated toys to the distribution center by sliding them down the stairs on a ramp, where another line of volunteers were waiting to pack them into trucks.

The process ended with the vehicles being driven to the American Legion, 1026 Sixth St.

DeArman said families who receive assistance through the state or county are qualified to receive toys for their children. The Department of Human Services sends a card out to the families who applied that can then be brought to the American Legion in exchange for the toys.

If a family is not registered when they come through, DeArman said parents and guardians must provide proof they are on some form of assistance and that the child lives with them.

Payne said before Figaro’s came along, the toys were kept in not only his garage but also in other board members’ garages.

“It got to be too big. We used to give them away at the bar,” Payne said referencing to Seekers, which still collects toys for the charitable effort. “It was a question of space and (Guske) volunteered. He even pays for the insurance in case something goes wrong there.”

He said the yearly giveaway continues to exceed his expectations. Another event Saturday collected an additional 400 toys.

“We have gotten some really good donations this year throughout the community,” Payne said. “I never imagined this would get this big, but it has, and I am very happy to be a part of it.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 15, 2014)

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