It was their final holiday event for Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) pre-kindergarteners, and The Noblemen were ready.
Trucks, Transformers and dolls. Stuffed animals, footballs and board games.
Hidden on the Windsor Woods Elementary School stage, volunteers sorted through gifts The Noblemen collected as part of their annual toy drive.
The volunteers and the toy-filled bins kept coming from stage right.
Soccer balls, Play-Doh and frisbees. Books, skateboards, racecars and Legos.
“We really just do craft and crowd control, and The Noblemen have done everything else,” said Korinna Duprey, VBCPS Title I/pre-kindergarten instructional specialist.
All 704 of the division’s pre-kindergarteners were invited to one of four holiday events held in partnership with The Noblemen. The supply of toys was so great that pre-kindergarteners’ siblings also received gifts.
“Elf helpers ask kids what they want for Christmas, and they come up [behind the stage] and get an armful of gifts that are similar to what the students asked for and deliver them to the kids,” said Duprey.
The volunteers, or elf helpers, were met with wide eyes and mouths agape from children who had their holiday gift wishes come true.
Stuffed animals that equaled them in size.
While The Noblemen’s goal is to bring joy to toy recipients, their volunteers receive the greater gift, according to Nobleman Pete Reuss.
Reuss explained that before his sister Tracy passed away from cancer in 2005, she started a family tradition of giving away some of her children’s gently-used toys to those in need at local shelters.
Reuss recalled that the children’s resistance was quickly replaced by realizing the joy of giving upon delivering the gifts. The annual event has only grown since in his sister’s memory and continues to involve children and teenagers as gift-giving volunteers.
“I was working a little bit with the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center (JCOC) afterschool program. They had about 30 kids, so we raised 67 used toys in kind of that thinking,” Reuss said of his first toy collection.
“Then we realized we needed new toys,” continued Reuss, “so the next year we got 700 and the next year we got 3,000 and the next year we got 6,000 and now we’re up to over 20,000 toys.”
The school division’s pre-kindergarteners are not the only beneficiaries of The Noblemen’s toy drive. They distribute toys in various neighborhoods and centers during the holiday season.
New this year, Reuss will donate extra toys from the drive to the Virginia Beach and Norfolk police departments. It’s an idea a friend mentioned to him at a Sunday night Christmas party. By Monday afternoon, he’d contacted and received approval from both police departments to receive their extra toys for officers to share when they are out in the community.
“It just grows and grows and grows,” said Reuss of the grassroots effort.
The engagement between the students and the volunteers is the most important. “Remember, it’s all about the interaction,” Reuss told volunteers behind stage before the event began.
“We introduce the kids and walk through the staging area, so it’s one-on-one, kid-to-kid. Which kid is getting more in that exchange?” said Reuss, reinforcing his sister’s wish for her own children to learn the importance of giving.
“My kids have been doing it since 2004, and they were 7, 5 and 3,” Reuss added. “My son is now 19. My daughter is 17. Our Christmas is completely transformed because it’s not, ‘What am I getting?,’ but, ‘When can we start giving out toys?’”
At the pre-kindergarten event the Noblemen saved the biggest gifts for last – new bikes!
Each child was given a raffle ticket when they arrived, and volunteers drew numbers for the winning recipients.
With a microphone in hand, Reuss built up the drama before each drawing, and each announcement was met with applause from the cafeteria full of families.
The room overflowing with toys was filled with an even greater gift – joy – as Reuss encouraged everyone to join in a holiday song.