Woleben is a non-stop shopper

Published 9:18 pm Saturday, December 4, 2010

Choosing toys: John Woleben and Janet Cowan choose toys for stocking stuffers this week at Walmart.

One day last week, John Woleben and Janet Cowan met up at the North Main Street Walmart and made a beeline for the toy section.

The Toys for Tots volunteer and Salvation Army employee, respectively, were looking for stocking stuffers for some of the 2,000 stockings that would be handed out to needy children at the Salvation Army.

“They’ll get a stocking and toys,” Woleben said as he perused the aisle of toys.

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Woleben and Cowan look in every crevice of the toy section, hunting all the $1-or-less items they can find. They load up three carts with coloring books, Hot Wheels cars, cans of Play-Doh, hair barrettes, rubber-band bracelets and more.

Woleben is the Suffolk Toys for Tots coordinator. It’s his job to take the money raised at events and donated through programs like the Suffolk News-Herald Cheer Fund and buy toys — lots of them.

He explains how he recently found bicycles at the Chesapeake Square Toys “R” Us for a great price. He accepts donations of toys year-round and fills in the gaps with toys he purchases in bulk from toy dealers and discount retailers like Walmart.

“We always need the older children and boys,” Woleben said.

On this day at Walmart, though, he’s only buying for the Salvation Army stockings.

“We have to keep it low,” he said of the prices of the toys he buys for the stockings. “We could stuff a few nice stockings, but then there wouldn’t be one for every child.”

Toys for which parents shop at the warehouse-turned-toy store for their children to open on Christmas Day, though, require more money. That’s where members of the community come in.

“A donation to the Cheer Fund buys more toys,” Woleben said.

Though donors are, of course, welcome to purchase toys at stores and drop them in the white Toys for Tots box, a donation to the Suffolk News-Herald Cheer Fund can purchase more toys because of the deals Woleben makes with retailers and toy distributors.

To give to the Cheer Fund, send a check to Suffolk News-Herald Cheer Fund, P.O. Box 1220, Suffolk, VA 23439-1220, or bring a donation by our office at 130 S. Saratoga St.