Fun fly

Published 12:06 am Sunday, November 13, 2011

Toy drive gets air support

They might have come to see the airplanes that filled the sky above a small airfield in Chuckatuck, but more than 500 people who turned out for the Hampton Roads Radio Control Club’s Fun Fly on Saturday gave a big boost to the Toys for Tots program in Suffolk.

Perry Phillips of Hampton makes some adjustments to his Thunderbolt radio-controlled airplane during a Toys for Tots Fun Fly in Suffolk on Saturday. The Hampton Roads Radio Control club raised more than $2,600 in the event.

“What a day!” exclaimed John Woleben, the coordinator for the Toys for Tots collections in Suffolk, as he surveyed a full parking lot at the Pembroke Lane airfield. “Does it get any better than this?”

In fact, the 5-year-old event hasn’t ever been better than it was, at least in terms of donations.

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Spectators and pilots this year filled six large boxes with new toys — 170 in all — and donated nearly $2,600 in cash for Toys for Tots.

“This is our biggest year ever,” HRRC club vice president Bob Howell said. “The turnout has been fantastic.”

Howell said club members started the event five years ago as a way of reaching out to the community after many years of flying their radio-controlled airplanes at the city-owned property adjacent to Lone Star Lakes Park.

When they decided to hold the fly-in and donate the money they raised to a community cause, a former member who was an active-duty Marine at the time suggested Toys for Tots.

“It’s a tremendous, tremendous program they have,” said Major Cal Clatterbuck, who leads the Salvation Army of Suffolk, which directs the distribution of toys collected and purchased through the Toys for Tots program here.

“Without these toys and without this program, the Salvation Army would really struggle,” he said. “We have so many (toy requests) coming at us this year. It’s more than usual, and it’s to be expected, given the economy we have now.”

Clatterbuck said the recession has caused an increase every year for the past few years in the number of families asking for help at Christmas.

Last year, the Salvation Army provided toys for 5,260 children through collections from Toys for Tots, events like the Fun Fly — which has become the kickoff event for the toy drive — and collections from the Cheer Fund.

The Cheer Fund was started by the Suffolk News-Herald sometime last century — during the Great Depression, it is believed — and initially provided money for clothing and food for needy Suffolk residents.

Over time, its mission changed to provide money to purchase toys for children who might otherwise find nothing under the tree on Christmas morning.

Money raised through the effort goes directly to the Toys for Tots organization, which purchases and distributes toys to families of boys and girls in Suffolk.

Last year, the Cheer Fund collected $36,735 for the effort. This year’s goal is $40,000.

Donations may be given by check made out to the Cheer Fund and mailed to the Suffolk News-Herald, P.O. Box 1220, Suffolk, VA 23439.