Residents coming forward to help Cheer Fund in a variety of ways

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

When William &uot;Bill&uot; Ashley arrived at the distribution site for the Toys for Tots Thursday, he found that the truck driver delivering the toys had no help to unload the 12 pallets of toys. Ashley said his faith once again helped overcome a problem.

&uot;I told the driver not to worry because God would provide,&uot; said Ashley, the man behind the success of the Toys for Tots campaign for the past 37 years. &uot;It wasn’t five minutes before the manager of Farm Fresh, Rowland Jones, and two of his employees, David Conner and Josh Parker, saw the problem and came to our rescue. It’s people like them that have helped so many underprivileged children over the years.&uot;

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Many people across the city, including Ashley’s son Barry and grandson Brian realize that Christmas is a difficult time for those without extra money for Christmas gifts. Ashley’s family was on hand to help unload the toy-filled truck. Like them, others believe in helping because they understand the great need.

Mack T. Saunders and his wife, Ruth M. Saunders are two of those people. He delivered a $100 check Friday to be added to the &uot;Cheer Fund,&uot; to help pay for toys, dolls and teddy bears for the children.

&uot;We’re a small business, Mack T. and Ruth M. Saunders Properties, and we would like to challenge other small businesses in Suffolk to give at least $100 to the Cheer Fund,&uot; said Mack Saunders. &uot;If every business in the city could give for the needy children, it wouldn’t take two weeks to put the fund over the top of the $40,000 goal. Ruth and I have been there…&uot;

Saunders and others like him are dedicated to the Cheer Fund’s mission to provide toys to the underprivileged children of Suffolk. Obici employee, Robert Romain &uot;Bob&uot; Smith, is also devoted to making sure Santa gets to their homes at Christmas.

Smith, for the past four years has contributed thousands of stuffed animals to the toy campaign. This year, he contributed 661 toys for the children. Last year, he had a little better winning streak with the &uot;claw&uot; machines seen in stores, contributing 1,081 stuffed animals for the children.

&uot;I play the machines in Golden Corrals, K-Marts, and Wal-Marts, and they are filled with the toys where you put in 50 cents to pick up a toy with the claws in the machines,&uot; said Smith. &uot;I started all this about five years ago when I had a heart attack. God brought me through all that and I felt that He wanted me to do something for the Lord’s children. To put a smile on the face of a child who doesn’t get a Santa visit… that is the most wonderful thing you can do for the Lord.

Smith is a lab tech at Obici Hospital where he’s worked for the past 35 years. He retired from the Navy, for which he did research all over Africa and Ethiopia during the time that Halle Salassie ruled. He was attached to the Navy’s Pasteur Institute.

&uot;I think Toys for Tots and the Cheer Fund are wonderful for the children,&uot; said Smith. &uot;My daughter, Dawn, helps with community service, most recently the Thanksgiving dinner at the homeless shelter. She’s preparing now for Christmas with about 50 gifts for the homeless kids. She’s a member of the Assembly of God in Chesapeake and she also works with children at a day care center, Kiddie College, so she truly enjoys children and knows of their needs.&uot;

This year, as noted by Saunders, the Cheer Fund must raise at least $40,000 to pay for gifts for 1,686 local children from birth to age 12. Together with the Department of Social Services, the Salvation Army of Suffolk, headed by Capt. David May, are contacting the parents of the children to advise them that toys are ready for pick up on Dec. 16.

This is the first year in which the two agencies have combined their data bases to select the children who will receive gifts through the Toys for Tots program. The program in Suffolk is largely funded by the Cheer Fund.

Ashley noted that without the help of the citizens of Suffolk, the Cheer Fund could have met with such resounding success. Over the years, it has helped thousands of children and brought a smile to the faces of their parents on Christmas morning.

People like Jim Chellew and Randy Phelps of the Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk Association of Insurance Financial Advisors, working in conjunction with the Suffolk Association of Life Underwriters, of which Ashley is a member, are instrumental in the success of the toy drive.

However, it is donations like that of Mack and Ruth Saunders that add up to bring cheer to the children. Anyone who would like to make a contribution should make checks payable to the News-Herald Cheer Fund. Bring them by the office at 130 South Saratoga St. or mail them to P.O. Box 1220, Suffolk, 23437.