Nov. 30—Children's eyes widen in awe from open windows as vehicles roll through a body shop full of dolls, footballs, bicycles, dinosaurs and more toys.
Vehicles plod through the line that extends several city blocks awaiting a turn to venture through stacks of toys from which children can pick their favorite each year at the the J. Michael Miller Christmas Toy Giveaway.
Each year brings a little Christmas magic as children excitedly point out their selection of a free toy and tons of volunteers safely bring it to their vehicle.
"It's great seeing their faces," said Reed Marcum, a McAlester High School senior and event organizer. "But we couldn't do this without the community."
This year's event is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 10 and will be a drive-through event at Ragan Auto at 306 E. Wyandotte Ave. in McAlester.
The idea for the event originated years ago after Reed saw fellow students with few school supplies. The first book bag giveaway provided roughly 1,000 bags, with more than 18,000 given away since then.
Reed, his mother, Angie Miller, and his stepfather, McAlester attorney J. Michael Miller, organize the event each year with the help of several family members and volunteers.
J. Michael said family and friends help hand out toys — and even offered assistance with some attendees who ran out of gas in line.
"They all help us make sure everything runs smoothly and we couldn't do it without them," J. Michael said.
The toy giveaway started in 2016 with 800 toys given away and expanded to more than 7,000 toys handed out last year.
Angie said the event kept growing because of community support and people wanting to give back during the holidays.
"We never imagined it would get this big," Angie said. "Just seeing the volume of people in lines and having fun...
"I get teary-eyed going down the line in a golf cart now," she added. "We used to have a line in front of the law office and now there's a line that we have to use a golf cart to bring people extra stuff. The giving back is just amazing."
Reed said this year's goal is to give away 10,000 toys for free to anyone who shows up — and honor several special people.
The event honors the memory of Hudson Campbell, the 2-year-old child of Kelley and Michael Campbell, who died of complications resulting from pediatric cancer in 2018.
Reed continued building momentum with more projects through his 4-H service and started the Hudson Strong Foundation — which gained 501 (c) 3 status and raises money toward scholarships for students going into the medical field and toward funding for families going through traumatic experiences.
Several of Reed's 4-H projects have honored Hudson and MacKenna "Kenna" Faith Mattioda, who died after being born with a congenital heart disease, pulmonary valve atresia and pulmonary artery stenosis.
He started an auction to raise money toward the foundation and presented checks totaling more than $50,000 from this year's auction to the wife of the late McAlester Police Officer Danny Kelley, and to Leann Yandell, a teacher at Lakewood Christian School who was diagnosed with cancer.
Reed's community service and accomplishments earned him recognition as a recent inductee to the Oklahoma 4-H Hall of Fame —becoming the fourth state 4-H Hall of Fame inductee from Pittsburg County after Lexey Lerblance in 2016, Brandi Moore in 2018, and Serena Woodard in 2019.
Pittsburg County 4-H Development Director Greg Owen said he is proud of Reed and all of the 4-H participants in the area.
During his induction speech, Reed reflected on being a shy Frink-Chambers Schools student and getting encouragement from the school's longtime counselor and teacher, Donna Curry. Reed said Donna encouraged him to enter a contest in first grade that he ended up winning and he continued in his 4-H career.
Donna recently died of a brain aneurysm and Greg said her impact in the community was immense.
"She did so much for so many people in our community," Greg said.
Reed started working to honor her memory with a memorial T-shirt through Common Roots and using her favorite quote on bags during the book bag giveaway.
A sock and undergarment drive Donna started to coordinate with the toy giveaway will also continue in her honor as organizers will hand out socks, undergarments, hats, gloves and other new clothing.
This year's event also honors the memory of his grandmother Lucy and Reed's brother, the late Sgt. Miles Tarron, who died last year and received a dignified transfer to his hometown.
Tarron was a specialist in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons with the 6th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, the Army said.
He joined the Army in October 2016 and deployed to Afghanistan from September 2017 to March 2018 and to Kuwait from January to May 2020 while stationed at Fort Bragg, the Army said. He earned several awards and decorations during his service.
Reed said his brother loved Christmas and he thought it was fitting to honor him at the event.
His grandmother also loved Christmastime and giving back, while bringing tons of smiles to everyone she could.
The family thanked everyone who supported them in the months afterward and who helped keep the toy giveaway going smoothly for the community.
"It was just amazing," Angie said. "They didn't even ask us questions, they just did it."
"We're not doing this to get anything in return, but it was nice to know that everybody was also caring for us," Reed said.
Reed is graduating high school this year and won't be as available to organize the event in the future — but he said the event is in good hands.
"I'll still be making videos and being involved with it, but the main reigns will be going over to my niece and nephew," Reed said.
Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III at email@example.com