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Modern boys' toys confound older 'elves'

Volunteers who spruce up toys for needy children at Christmas need a little help with some.

By ROSALIND HELDERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 28, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Ardith Rutland insists that the jumbled piles of toys are more organized than they look.

President of the all-volunteer Christmas Toy Shop, a local organization that refurbishes old toys and distributes them at Christmastime to needy children, Rutland runs her hand down shelves of game pieces and boxes of doll clothes at the group's sprawling 16th Street warehouse.

A volunteer for 47 years, Rutland knows her toys. LEGOS go here; Fisher-Price action figures, there.

But one pile of toys baffles even Rutland. Here, her detailed labeling system fails her.

"I call them "things' 'cause I don't know what else to call them," she said.

The "things" include some of the most modern boys' toys around -- Power Rangers, Star Wars figurines -- as well more generic monsters and creatures. No one in the Christmas Toy Shop's fleet of skilled volunteers knows how to fix these toys.

"There are certain monsters that go with certain monsters, but my kids never had those. I don't know a thing about it," Mrs. Rutland said.

At 68, Mrs. Rutland is typical of most the group's volunteers: older, retired and looking for a way to help children. Barbara Fasnacht, 77, works on Barbie dolls, carefully rolling out the dolls' hair and looking for shoes and clothes for each toy. She began working here to avoid loneliness after her husband's death in November.

"I think this will be my salvation," she said.

But she doesn't know anything about the boys' toys.

Retired electricians work on battery-operated toys. Retired carpenters paint and repair wooden toys. But no one here is a retired monstermaker.

Now, the "things" are piling up.

The group takes in used toys year-round. Toys donated around Christmas last year can be washed, repaired and packed for redistribution in time for this Christmas. In 1999, more than 3,400 children received donated new and used toys from the 79-year old organization.

But none of the modern boys' toys donated last year have yet been touched.

She is recruiting younger volunteers, boys especially, to come in and help with the toys. Groups can come in together to help out. The toy shop already hosts several Girl Scout troops.

"You can see where we have the need. We need the kids," Mrs. Rutland said.

For more information or to volunteer, call (727) 898-3962.

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