Monroe girl’s toy drive has staying power

MONROE — Abbey Aney’s Christmas list isn’t long. She already has new boots. She’s hoping for a book and a mini tablet computer — and maybe a frozen yogurt gift card.

The fourth-grader’s real wish isn’t for herself. Abbey, 10, works all year to bring happiness to other kids at Christmas.

Some readers may remember Abbey. She was in kindergarten when The Herald featured her on Christmas Day 2009.

That year, she saved money in a piggy bank — about $100 — to buy Christmas toys for families helped by Monroe’s Sky Valley Food Bank. With a matching gift from a local business, she donated 300 toys that year.

Jodie Aney never expected her daughter’s toy drives to continue for years, becoming a major charitable project in Monroe. That’s what has happened.

“It’s something she thinks of 365 days a year. She goes to garage sales looking for new toys,” said Aney, whose own garage is often packed with donated toys. “She was 5 when she started. It’s gotten bigger and bigger.”

How big?

“The fact is, this is the first year we don’t have to buy toys,” said Neil Watkins, executive director of the Sky Valley Food Bank. Watkins estimated that 700 children will be served by the food bank this holiday season.

For Christmas, families helped by the nonprofit agency receive a standard supply of food, plus a turkey, ham or chicken and other fixings for a holiday meal. Those with children 13 and younger also get a gift-filled stocking and other toys for each child.

A week ago at the food bank, Abbey was joined by her classmates from Cornerstone Academy, a Christian school in Snohomish, as she delivered her load of toys. Her mom’s car wasn’t big enough to hold it all. Eric Ringen, from Les Schwab Tire Center in Monroe, was there with a truck to haul bags and bags of playthings.

By Dec. 17, Abbey had donated 4,867 toys. She was planning at least one more shopping trip before toys were given to families late last week and early this week.

Toys collected by Abbey were piled high and stacked on food bank shelves before the distribution days. There were toys for every age group, among them a Disney Cinderella Princess Doll, a Cootie game, a Dream Lite Pillow Pet, a basketball, earphones and a three-pack of racing trucks.

Abbey has collected new toys and cash donations outside Monroe’s Ben Franklin Crafts &Frame Shop, Albertsons, Grow With Me Boutique, the Dollar Tree and other businesses. On one Saturday this month, donors gave Abbey 547 toys and more than $700. It was 11 degrees outside, her mom said.

“She also talked to the Monroe Chamber of Commerce,” said Aney, adding that her daughter’s pitch was “If you want to help me, call my mom.” New to her effort this year is a Facebook page, called “Abbey’s Annual Tradition more than a Toy Drive.”

Abbey is blessed with a nice home and close family. With her parents, Adam and Jodie Aney, she also has an 8-year-old brother, Connor. Yet in one way, the Monroe girl has faced tough times. Her mother said she has serious health problems, and has been treated often at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

In 2010, Abbey had surgical procedures to treat a nonmalignant tumor behind one ear. “Despite some ongoing health issues, and going a number of times to Seattle Children’s, she still has the spirit to give,” Jodie Aney said last week.

At the Seattle hospital, Abbey sometimes gets to pick out a toy. Except for one doll, she has given every one of those toys to the food bank, her mother said.

The family belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Monroe. Abbey said last week that her giving goes hand-in-hand with her faith.

“God made me to do this, to share the word of just giving,” she said.

Jodie Aney said she and Abbey have seen families from their church in line for assistance at the food bank. It’s a humbling experience. Aney knows that misfortune can befall anyone.

“We just tell them Merry Christmas,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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