It’s been 15 years since the Natalie Woolsey Toy Drive began with Woolsey and her wish to give back.
“She decided that she wanted to do something more than just wear a pretty crown,” said Lee Ann Hearn, Woolsey’s mother. “She wanted it to have some meaning.”
Hundreds of residents celebrated and honored Woolsey’s legacy at the ninth annual Natalie Woolsey Toy Drive on Saturday at the Brazoria County Fairgrounds. The event has grown exponentially over the years, and this year’s festivities included live and silent auctions, a gun raffle, performances from Barbie Rhodes Dance Studio and Velasco Elementary’s fourth-grade choir, and a washer tournament.
“I was most excited about seeing all the dancers dance, and seeing them sing,” said Ava Crisp, 10. Her sister Claire, 8, was most excited about being at the event with her family, she said.
Kids’ activities included Crocodile Encounter, a bounce house, pony rides, face painting, a visit from Disney characters Elsa and Anna, and pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
In 2004, Woolsey, a Festival of Lights pageant queen, decided she wanted to use the pageant to collect toys for children who might not have the same opportunities in life that she had. Before she was able to emcee the pageant that year, she died in a car accident. At the time, her car was full of toys she’d collected and planned to donate.
“People from all over the place donated toys that year,” Hearn said. “We’ve just kept the toy drive alive in her memory over the years.”
Denise Rocha and her sister-in-law both donated baked goods and toys at this year’s event. Her sister-in-law works for Swagelok, one of the event sponsors, while Rocha and her children were visiting from Floresville and decided to tag along to the toy drive, Rocha said.
Funds raised at the event will support Brazoria County children in need. The Natalie Woolsey Toy Drive Foundation partners with community organizations like the Dream Center and with school counselors who have submitted applications for assistance on behalf of students.
“The goal this year is $135,000 to fulfill all of our applications,” said Josie LaChance, the director of the Toy Drive. Teachers and counselors will go shopping with the toy drive volunteers to pick out the items the kids want and need, she said.
“We’re surprised by the amount of clothes we’re buying rather than toys,” LaChance said.
Funds also go toward the Natalie Woolsey Literacy Program, which partners with Scholastic to ensure that every elementary school child in BISD gets to go to a book fair and pick out two books — one paid for by the toy drive foundation, and one paid for by Scholastic, which matches the nonprofit’s donation, Hearn said.
“Natalie would be really proud of that because everybody gets to feel special that day,” she said.
“It’s really always the best day of the year for me,” Hearn said. “It’s just such a wonderful way to keep her legacy alive and I just treasure that.”
Corinna Richardson is the features writer for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0150.