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Collection points for Operation Toy Soldier draw heavy traffic at Walmart

SALISBURY — When Stephene Sartin started her dinner break during her Walmart shift early Friday evening, she went directly to the toy department.

She bought puzzles, building sets, dolls and games such as Candy Land. Her purchases filled several bags.

When Sartin had paid for the items, she walked out of the main entrance, took an immediate right and deposited the toys into a waiting Operation Toy Soldier barrel.

“I’m a veteran,” Sartin said, “so I always try to help out.”

Throughout the day Friday, people visited the Operation Toy Soldier tables outside the Walmart entrances and left new, unwrapped toys with volunteers at the collection points.

If they didn’t bring toys, they left cash, which will go to Toys for Tots.

The toy collection continues around the clock this weekend until 8 p.m. Sunday.

“All night, all day,” said Russ Roakes, who heads the Operation Toy Soldier effort for Powles Staton Funeral Home.

As it has in the past, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office played a big role in providing the manpower for the three-day Walmart effort.

Lt. Mike Brady serves as ringleader for the Sheriff’s Office.

“I’m usually here pretty much nonstop,” Brady said.

Operation Toy Soldier is a nationwide nonprofit program providing toys for military families.

By the time this weekend’s toy collections at Walmart are over, personnel from the Sheriff’s Office, Salisbury Police Department, Granite Quarry-Faith Police Authority, local fire departments and first responders in general will have participated.

Roakes said the local effort aims to surpass the 6,500 toys it collected last year in Rowan County.

Going into this weekend, Operation Toy Soldier collection spots throughout Rowan and various appreciation meals the funeral home has sponsored for veterans and law enforcement officers had already gathered 800 toys.

But the Walmart location is always the biggest.

“This is our No. 1 spot, without question, to raise toys,” Roakes said.

In Rowan County, Operation Toy Soldier will collect toys through Dec. 15. The new, unwrapped toys will go to the N.C. National Guard Family Readiness Program, which will distribute them to military families.

By Friday afternoon — the toy collection effort started at noon — five new bicycles already were among the items donated. Brady said a woman who brought significant donations such as bicycles and remote-controlled cars arrived Friday before the volunteers did.

“She was actually here waiting for us to set up,” Brady said.

Brady and others praised the cooperation they receive from Walmart and the support they see from Walmart employees such as Sartin.

Sherry Perry, a resident of Gold Hill, walked up to the Walmart collection point with a doll, toy car and children’s game for the barrel.

Her husband is a veteran, Perry said, “and I do it so all children can have a Christmas.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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