The Great Nanaimo Toy Drive is the largest toy drive in Nanaimo and has been in operation since 1982/1983. Since the beginning, the Great Nanaimo Toy Drive has been about the community working together to bring gifts and hope to families in need at Christmas.
It all began when Scotty McLeod, who worked at the Nanaimo Correction Centre, was looking for a project that would interest the inmates and give them an opportunity to do something positive. Scotty began collecting gently used bicycles and wooden toys that the inmates would then restore for children in the community. The Nanaimo Fire Departments became involved early on as drop-off sites for people to donate toys for Scotty’s program. Our local firefighters still play a big role in the toy drive today!
At about the same time, Dorothy Gasperdone asked one of the many neighbourhood children what they got for Christmas and was shocked to learn the child didn’t receive any gifts. Dorothy decided that wasn’t going to happen in her city, so she reached out to family and friends and was put in touch with Scotty and a partnership was formed. Others soon joined in to help refurbish dolls and collect toys. Dorothy’s friends in the Altrusa International Club, including long serving President Arlene Blondell, became involved soon after and added energy, talent, and love to what was becoming The Great Nanaimo Toy Drive.
Over the years, with the help of The Nanaimo News Bulletin’s Trish Segal, more citizens, businesses, and groups began donating to the toy drive. The News Bulletin developed one of the early fundraisers, called Pennies for Presents, which is now called Coins for Christmas. The Great Nanaimo Toy Drive worked in partnership with Loaves and Fishes and the Salvation Army to run The Hamperville program. These groups shared registration sites, a practice that continues today with some of the Great Nanaimo Toy Drive registration sites still being held at Loaves and Fishes Food Bank sites.
Given The Great Nanaimo Toy Drive only operates a physical space for two weeks during December, we have never had a permanent ‘home’. For many years, School District 68 offered space to the toy drive and more recently Colliers International has worked with their property owners to find us space in December. As the population of Nanaimo grew, and the number of toys required increased, a storage unit at Budget Self Storage was acquired to provide additional space throughout the year.
The community spirit behind The Great Nanaimo Toy Drive continues today with many local groups and businesses providing support, from the Nanaimo Clippers Annual Teddy Bear Toss, to the Brown’s Social House Annual PJ Drive, to the many small business who create various initiatives to collect toys and gifts on our behalf. The Great Nanaimo Toy Drive is completely volunteer driven including the Board of Directors. Over the past few decades thousands of volunteers have helped make sure the toy drive is a success. Each year over a hundred volunteers help us register recipients, sort toys, set up the warehouse, assist parents and guardians with selecting toys and gifts, and many other tasks.
The history of The Great Nanaimo Toy Drive is the history of people, businesses and organizations of Nanaimo coming together to ensure every child in Nanaimo can find a present under the tree at Christmas….and their parents and guardians can feel a little hope for a better tomorrow.