Radio personality Jammin’ Jimmy Olson will spend as many cold nights as it takes to gather enough toys to ensure no child goes without on Christmas morning.
The host of the “JJO Radio Show” on 95.3 and 102.3 The Breeze is braving the weather for the fifth year in Tyler with the goal of raising a ton, or 2,000 pounds, of toys and 102 bicycles for the Marine Corps League Toys for Tots toy drive. Bicycles are the No. 2 most requested toy, behind a puppy, he said.
“I will do anything for kids,” Olson, 45, said. “This is dear to my heart. It’s a shame that so many kids need it, and I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to do this — that it is not necessary to do it — but as long as it is, and I’m able to do it, I’m going to do it.”
Olson is guaranteed to be at the mall until Monday but will stay longer if the goal is not reached. It will be an uncomfortable week. Olson will be sleeping in a portable storage pod with a thick sleeping bag and small space heater to keep him warm. He refuses to leave the parking lot for any reason. Local businesses have stepped up to keep him fed and the Tyler Police Department is helping keep him safe.
Olson is antsy about the drive this year. A cold and misty day kept many from donating on Monday. At the end of the first 12 hours, about 10 people donated a handful of toys and one bicycle.
He said the outlook got a little a bit better on Tuesday when a couple brought in 18 bicycles and toys. A few other donations brought the bicycle count to 22. But anticipated weekend rains still had him concerned.
Olson also is recovering from a bout of bronchitis. He’s had the ailment twice before during the toy drive, but usually the end and not at the beginning. EMS is checking on him periodically.
Toys for Tots will help provide Christmas for about 3,000 children in Smith and neighboring counties this year, said Larry Adkins, Smith County and Henderson County coordinator for Toys For Tots and a member of Rose City Marine Corps League, Detachment 1354.
“We are gaining kids every day, so where it’s going to stop, I’m not sure,” Adkins said.
The station is hoping to beat last year’s record of 7,052 pounds, or 3.5 tons, of toys collected and a total of 178 bicycles. Olson said the goal of making sure every child has a gift at Christmas cannot be reached without the help of all community members and local businesses.
“The people that have the least give the most,” Olson said. “I’m touched every year by people that tell me their stories and what they give up so much to help others, and yet people who have the most are sheltered the most, but they have the means to (give more) and that’s who I need.”
Olson began the toy drive in Houston 15 years ago when a few families approached the radio station he was working for asking for help, but all the deadlines for assistance already passed. So the radio station opted to hold its own toy drive and teamed up with the Marine Corps League the following year. When he moved to Tyler, he continued the tradition.
Adkins said Olson’s toy drive is one of the biggest in the county, and many children wouldn’t have toys under the tree without him.
“He has been a faithful and strong supporter of Toys for Tots, and we appreciate him beyond what I can tell you,” he said.
Olson does the toy drive each year on two conditions: The league has to accept families that are deserving of assistance until the last day he is in the box and any remaining toys have to be distributed to other charities.
Technically, the deadline to be put on the list ended on Nov. 10, but residents can still get on it by sending an email to Adkins at email@example.com. Include a name, phone number, address, age and gender of the children.
“My desire is to see that no child that needs a Christmas goes without Christmas,” Adkins said.
“Most people that are signing up now are people who recently lost jobs or recently moved into the area,” he said.
After Smith County’s list of children is provided for, the toys will go to assist Toys for Tots organizations in neighboring counties that fell short of their goals and to other nonprofits including The Salvation Army Angel Tree, foster children and various churches.
Residents also can donate money to Toys for Tots for the purchase of new toys at any Citizens State Bank, in account number 9531023. The donations will not count toward the JJo’s Ton of Toys drive with the minimum goal of one ton of toys and 102 bicycles.
Olson hopes everyone will be Santa this year.
“Children believe in Santa, and Santa never, ever lets a child down, period,” he said. “So everybody must step up this year and do the right thing. I don’t care what toy drive you give to — make this year the best ever so that every child has a smile on Christmas. That is the main goal. If you can bring it here, God bless you, but if you can’t there are other toy drives.”