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Toy Express charity lets needy parents pick out toys for children

Student volunteer Umber Waheed organizes toys at the Toy Express storefront. Lorae Mundt for Shaw Media
Student volunteer Umber Waheed organizes toys at the Toy Express storefront. Lorae Mundt for Shaw Media

Once someone volunteers with Toy Express and sees the joy it brings to hundreds of families in the western suburbs, it’s hard for them to stay away.

Chris Bokhart of Downers Grove first volunteered about 16 years ago when his son’s Eagle Scout project worked with the organization. He’s been back every year since, growing his involvement.

“It pulled my heart strings so much that a small group of people could do so much for a large population in the areas that we live,” he said.

In 2000, he incorporated the grassroots organization, originally founded by Pat Rynne and Naomi Little, as an official nonprofit.

“Every year you walk away with a family that just touches your heart – we’re talking a special moment,” he said. “You get to that moment every year, and you know it was all worth it.”

This year, Toy Express hopes to help between 800 and 1,000 families that have an average of two or three children each. Each child will receive three toys, a book and a stuffed animal.

“It helps the families, so instead of spending money on toys for gifts they can spend money on things like food and basic services,” he said.

One of the things that makes Toy Express unique is it sets up a storefront every year, and parents get to pick out the items they will give to their children.

“The fact that the parent gets to pick the toys out, they have a little bit more pride in it,” he said.

Toy Express sets up wherever they can find a donated storefront each year. This year, the shop is set up in the Chestnut Court Shopping Center in Suite 152 at 75th Street and Lemont Road.

Every toy, book and stuffed animal is donated to collection sites at fire stations and other drop points.

Bokhart said it takes between 50 and 75 volunteers to run the entire operation, including a dedicated group of about 20 individuals.

Original founders Naomi Little and Pat Rynne have both died in recent years. Rynne’s daughter Kelli Rynne, 25, has begun taking a larger role in the organization she helped her mom with since childhood.

“Every year it grows and grows,” she said. “It started out in a basement. It’s really nice to see her legacy grow.”

She said there is still a need for more donations and volunteers this year.

To volunteer, donate or sign up for services, call 630-963-1147. Eligible families need to provide proof of public aid to receive items.

How to help

Donations are collected locally in Downers Grove at fire stations at 5420 Main St., 3900 Highland Ave. and 6701 Main St., at Lisle-Woodridge Fire District stations in Lisle at 1005 School St., 2505 Green Trails Drive and 2005 Warrenville Road; and in Woodridge at 7393 Woodridge Drive and 3101 Woodridge Drive.

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