7,000 pounds of toys — 1 'heart of gold'
BY FAITH HARPER
Jammin' Jimmy Olson, vice president of operations for Waller Broadcasting, finally got to take a hot shower and a clean shave Monday afternoon after living in a box in the Broadway Square Mall parking lot for eight days.
Olson said he slept in a recliner, brushed his teeth with a bottle of water and endured the cold and rain with one heater to reach a goal of raising a ton of gifts for the Toys for Tots foundation.
"It's an uninsulated box, and being unshaven and unbathed -- it's very uncomfortable," he said. "I had the worst heater I've ever had in the history of this toy drive. It was horrible, and it was a nightmare, but there wasn't anything I wouldn't do for a child."
The host of the "JJO Radio Show" said local businesses helped to keep him fed, and the Tyler Police Department kept an eye on the area to ensure his safety. Olson said after he contracted bronchitis last year, officials with the East Texas Medical Center in Tyler insisted he get checked out before he could go home.
"Last year, they tried to get me to go to the hospital," he said. "I said, 'Unless I'm dead, I'm going to be here.'"
This is the fourth year Olson has staked out the mall and petitioned his radio listeners to reach into their hearts and provide what they could for a child in need.
"All they know is Santa gives them stuff," Olson said. "How do you explain why there is nothing under the tree? (Do) you say Santa is broke? No, Santa has elves that build all that stuff so to speak."
This year was a record breaking year, with 7,000 pounds (or 3.5 tons) of toys collected. The station collected 147 bikes, and at the end of the drive John Soules Foods in Tyler committed to donating $2,000 for the purchase of more bikes. Olson said he hopes that will equate to another 65 bikes, which are a highly coveted gift.
"Bikes are the No. 2 requested item outside of a puppy, and I'm not going to collect puppies," he joked.
Olson said he was nervous going into the drive because Anderson and Cherokee county children were added to the list, and he couldn't stomach a child going without on Christmas morning.
"This is amazing," he said. "There is no way to express my gratitude for the people of East Texas who came through. Without them, there is no way this would be possible, and I pray for the day that I don't have to do this and every child has a gift under the tree for Christmas."
Olson said each drive comes with inspirational stories. This year a couple and their friend donated 20 toys for the 20 children killed in Newtown, Conn., on Friday.
"After that, when I announced it on the radio about 40-plus (donated for the children)," he said. "It was real touching. ... They were literally in tears when they were doing it. It was pretty remarkable."
The station had a 40-minute concert with pop star Chris Wallace performing in the parking lot on Saturday for the first year.
"It was completely free," Olson said. "We asked people to bring a toy, and they did. That helped out a lot, and he stayed for a couple hours, talking to everyone, taking pictures, and it was awesome."
Larry Adkins, Toys for Tots coordinator for the Marine Corps League Rose City Detachment No. 1354, said the organization will serve between 1,200 and 1,500 children in Smith County. He estimates by the time the detachment helps the outlying areas in East Texas, about 2,000 children will be helped.
"He's amazing," Adkins said. "He is one of the amazing reasons we can serve that many kids. ... He has a heart of gold. He gets all misty when it comes to kids."
Adkins said he hopes there will be enough for each child to receive four toys and between four and five stocking stuffers.
Any overage of toys will go to other charitable organizations in the East Texas area including The Salvation Army's Angel Tree, the First Baptist Church -- Tyler Family Assistance Center and Church Under a Bridge, which ministers to the homeless.
"For (every) $100 we take in cash, $97.30 buys toys," Adkins said. "The other $2.70 buys the bags to put the toys in. There are no paid people, we don't feed the people (working), we don't buy gas, we don't do anything but buy toys and bags and support Toys for Tots."
The organization keeps a few spares in case a house fire destroys all the playthings a family has, and any leftover funds are used in after Christmas sales to maximize their buying power.
Adkins said he also would like to recognize the efforts of the organization's other big sponsors, which include the Literacy Council of Tyler, The Lighthouse, Suddenlink and Winona ISD, which does a successful toy drive each year.
He said they are beginning to take up all the collection boxes, but last-minute donations can be made until Friday morning at the old Texas Guard Armory, 2520 E. Commerce St., in Tyler. He said workers will be at the location in the mornings.
"The people of East Texas are the most generous people in the world," Adkins said. "I don't care who you are, what you see or what you do, it's hard to beat the hearts in East Texas."