Celebrities come out for Toys for Tots fundraiser

By DAVE McMILLION

Everywhere you looked Sunday, there was a celebrity to be spotted or some dazzling prize to behold at the second Toys for Tots Charity Event in Hagerstown.

The event was held at Elks Lodge 378 along Robinwood Drive to raise money for the local Toys for Tots, launched every year at the holiday season to make sure youths in need get Christmas presents to make their holiday a little brighter.

The festivities also marked the 242nd birthday this year of the Marine Corps. Toys for Tots is organized by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

Toys for Tots collection boxes usually are set up at local businesses and other organizations.

Organizers supplement toy contributions from the public, and Sunday’s event was held to raise money for extra toys purchased, local Toys for Tots chairman Jim Mills said.

To create some excitement, organizers lined up a number of celebrities to attend, including Grand Ole Opry veteran Tim Atwood, Tiffany Sparks from the television series “Appalachian Outlaws” and Elaini Arthur, an up-and-coming country-music artist.

Organizers also planned to hold live and silent auctions of prizes valued at more than $22,000, Mills said.

Among the items was a Gibson electric guitar. Mills said he applied to the Gibson Foundation — an organization dedicated to making the world a better place for children — for a prize to be offered.

“I couldn’t believe it. Two weeks later, (we) got this guitar,” Mills said.

Gibson electric guitars are adored by some musicians, and Mills said the red Gibson sitting in its stand Sunday was valued at $2,000.

Mills said local Toys for Tots organizers typically spend an additional $6,000 to $8,000 for gifts for Washington County youths.

Money also was raised through $35 per-person tickets for the celebration, which included a buffet dinner. Mills said 300 people were expected to attend.

Atwood was part of the Grand Ole Opry’s staff band for 38 years and played with stars such as Roy Acuff, Merle Haggard and Taylor Swift.

Atwood, who played piano, bass and drums, left the show in 2014, and spends his time today doing session work, playing for other people and recording his own music.

Talk about the iconic Grand Ole Opry country music radio show often revolves around colorful stories about how listeners strained to hear the show from across the country. Atwood said he remembered how his father in Peoria, Ill., pulled up his car and opened the doors so the family could hear the show on the vehicle’s radio.

“So we’d sit outside and listen to the Grand Ole Opry in the front yard. Now that’s hillbilly,” said Atwood, laughing.

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