Local Nonprofit Shares Its Legacy of Love
The Toy Rescue Mission
By Rachel Kelly
Martha Davis, the current president of the Toy Rescue Mission, met its founder Karol Barkley through an auto parts store of all things. Karol had called the store to see if they would consider donating several gallons of car paint to refurbish matchbox cars. Confused by her request, Martha asked questions back and forth of people who had talked to her. She didn’t find out much. “I thought to myself, ‘Who is this crazy person who wants all this paint for matchbox cars?’ quotes Martha over 24 years later. Not interested in leaving the question unanswered, Martha finally just called Karol back. Karol knew the importance of a special toy. When she was just 10 years old, she received a gift from her father, who had died 12 days prior. He had ordered it and arranged for it to be given to her as a Christmas gift, not sure if he would be around himself to give it to her. It was a Poor Pitiful Pearl doll. This doll became a precious possession, even more so when Karol lost her mother two-and-a-half years later. When Karol moved to Tacoma, Washington, to live with her paternal grandparents, the doll came too. As Karol moved forward in her adult life, the memory of that precious doll would make a lasting impact. That doll represented a legacy of love.
It was this story that Karol shared with Martha over the phone and was the reason behind her request. This is why Karol was painting matchbox cars; she was passing on that legacy of love to other children. Every child deserves the symbol of comfort that a special toy brings, especially if they’re feeling uprooted.
“She made me cry! I was hooked from then on. Twenty-four years later, I’m still here,” says Martha.
The nonprofit began with Karol Barkley. Having focused on her family throughout her adult life, when her children moved out, Karol began looking for a way to give back. Her neighbor asked her for a little money to buy her child a gift, which she would pay back later. Karol didn’t have any cash on hand, but she could go to Goodwill. She found all kinds of toys and came home with her hands full. Her general interest in thrift store shopping became a passion, as she found more and more like-new toys to give to children. Soon others started donating, and Karol started running out of room to store everything.
Eventually a building was donated as a warehouse for “once-loved” toys, and the Toy Rescue Mission has been there ever since. Karol has since retired from nonprofit work, entrusting the reins of the Toy Rescue Mission to Martha. They still share a close friendship today. Today’s mission is the same as it was in the beginning: to show children and families love through the gift of a special toy. However, with the help of thousands of volunteers, the conduit for recycling once-loved toys has become a well-oiled machine that serves over 12,000 children annually.
Each family is eligible for two years of free toys, after which time they are asked to donate a certain number of hours toward volunteer service. When families arrive, they “shop” throughout the toy store. Receiving one-on-one attention from volunteers, families receive any number of things depending on the time of year. Most recently, the Toy Rescue Mission held a backpack drive. Each family received everything they needed for the school year, from face masks and backpacks to special toys and new shoes. Also onsite was a raffle for a table full of supplies for a large barbecue and various foodstuffs.
Other activities are held throughout the year on various holidays, especially Christmas. Gifts are like new, and completely outfitted. The dolls come with clothes and accessories, hand-sewn blankets and cribs. The remote-control cars come with batteries. The teenager section has gift boxes full of supplies for a night of pampering, complete with nail polish and lotion. “We like to put together gifts that we would like to get,” says Martha. With toys that look like new, shrink wrapped or in their original packaging, the Toy Rescue Mission certainly achieves that goal.
The Toy Rescue Mission even has a special birthday store for the exclusive use of parents. Kids are not allowed, not only to keep the surprise intact, but so that parents can choose something that is from them. Just as if they had gone to a store or purchased online. The shelves are divided according to age, and each parent is encouraged to pick out a book, a stuffed animal, two small toys and one large toy. But what’s a birthday without a party? With packages full of frosting, cups, plates and cake mix, the Toy Rescue Mission has that covered too. Again and again, their attention to detail shows intentional care. There’s really nothing they haven’t thought of.
From shoes to makeup, from food to toys, the Toy Rescue Mission shares its legacy of love, ensuring every child has that special comfort that only a toy can bring.