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Storehouse Toy Drive Swaps Cookies for Gifts

Ty Keplinger, momentarily minus his mask for this photo, is in his Edward Jones office with some of the toys he collected one afternoon for Storehouse.

HendersonvilleAdapting to pandemic restrictions, Ty Keplinger morphed into Cookie Santa as a sweet way to reward drive-through toy donors.

Keplinger, among local Edward Jones Investments financial advisors, treated his clients as usual for the holidays. He still conducted a large-scale toy drive with his clients for The Storehouse of Henderson County’s Blessings in Boxes. He did so for the fifth year in a row — since he was first based at 136 King St., Suite C. Keplinger combined the Christmas social and toy drive for much of the afternoon on Dec. 9.

Socially-distant donations

Normally, clients would socialize in his office. They could bring in unwrapped toys for the drive.

Not so this time. Keplinger has successfully operated remotely by conferring with clients by phone, instead of in-person, as a sanitary safeguard. He presents monthly investing lectures on Zoom.

Rather than having a few people in the office at a time within COVID guidelines for a day, Keplinger instructed his clients weeks ahead to drive by his outpost in the parking lot.

They responded well. “Every bit counts,” Keplinger said of the toy drive. He chatted with each customer, catching up on what is new for them. One is an expectant mother.

Keplinger bought 400 locally-basked cookies from McFarlan Bakery. They included gingerbread cookies. He put four per bag, for 100 bags. He gave all but a handful of them to customers, often two bags per car.

He took a chance on the weather by staging an event outside in December. It worked out. The day was seasonably warm, with no rain or snow. It chilled toward the end of the event. Keplinger was dressed in a suit, with no coat on.

Cathy Warren assisted him. She fills in for office manager Jackie Fowler as needed.

Gracious number of gifts

The Tribune saw many smiles as donors pulled up to Keplinger and Warren.

Donated gifts included plastic dinosaurs,  magnetic building tiles, Mr. Potato Head, Dominos, toy trucks, and Road Range Speed Bumper Cars. Dolls included Care Bears, a large floppy-eared puppy, and Princess Elsa from Disney’s Frozen film series.

The Storehouse ministry’s toy drive normally benefits more than 2,000 local children, with dozens of churches and more than 100 businesses collecting toys for the drive. Storehouse picks up the toys.

The recipient family writes a wish list for gifts and notes each child’s age and gender. That info is matched with a specific donor. For anonymity, a number represents each child.

Donors can choose to sponsor an entire family or a local elementary or middle school child.

The county’s public schools refer students to Storehouse, noted Kathy Knight, who led Storehouse’s toy drive committee. A spreadsheet organizes such data as a child’s “favorite colors, sizes, and any special needs, such as weighted blankets.”

The donor decides what age and gender appropriate gifts to purchase.