Business professor Keith Swim started collecting and donating toys about 20 years ago and soon turned his hobby into an annual program at Texas A&M.
Help Swim Help the Children focuses on delivering presents to kids in local hospitals and Child Protective Services. With help from students, Swim has expanded the toy drive and has been able to grant the requests of many children throughout Brazos County.
Although Swim has been running the drive for many years, he said the driving force behind it is the students who participate.
“My students and former students and organizations on campus donate their time, their money, their effort, their gift cards and then go shop,” Swim said. “Then in December we spend a day here at Wehner wrapping presents, and then we deliver them.”
Marketing junior Emily Henson has been involved with this drive since the fall of 2018. She said she decided to join because she wanted to help others. Henson and her roommate, accounting junior Madelyn Hill, are now heavily involved in running the toy drive.
“My roommate and I are kind of coordinators to Swim,” Henson said. “We talk in classes and encourage people to donate toys and funds. We also organize the volunteers to help shop, wrap and deliver.”
Hill heard about the toy drive while attending one of Swim’s classes. She said she has been involved in service projects since she was a child and wanted to find more opportunities to continue in College Station.
“Growing up, we always went and decorated our local nursing home, knocked on the doors and talked to a lot of the older people,” Hill said. “That was our favorite thing to do every Christmas. Coming here, I knew I needed to find some way to give back.”
Hill said one of the ways they advertise the drive is with a Christmas tree in the Wehner building where students can offer to adopt a child, meaning they buy the gifts requested by one of the children on their list.
“Anybody in Mays can go over to the tree, take an angel off the tree, sign their name and adopt a kid,” Hill said. “Also, throughout different management classes, [Swim] mentions his Venmo, so you can Venmo him and donate.”
Henson said seeing the reactions from the kids and the employees at the hospital and CPS has been her most enjoyable experience in the toy drive.
“Last year, our delivery was probably one of my favorite days,” Henson said. “Just to see all of the workers and how appreciative they were, and to see how much this makes a difference in all of those kids’ Christmases.”
Henson said some people are reluctant to donate because of the financial strain of being in college, but she encourages people to give at least a small amount to children who often have even less.
“The toy drive has really just impacted me in a way that has shown me that the season is really about giving,” Henson said. “Even if it’s not much, because we’re all in college, every little bit makes a difference.”
Swim said one of his most memorable experiences with the toy drive was when a severely burned boy that he had given toys to in the past approached him as a student some years later.
“He was in my class last spring,” Swim said. “He came up and told me, ‘I’m that little boy.’”
Hill said she is excited about any opportunity to provide some community service, especially for Help Swim Help the Children.
“This is one of my favorite things to do,” Hill said. “I look forward to doing this every year, doing something along the lines of giving back and helping people at this time of year. It kind of just puts everything into perspective and makes you realize, ‘I’m very fortunate in my life to be able to give back to people that don’t have the same things that I do.’”
More information about Help Swim Help the Children is available on the program’s Facebook page.