The seventh annual Johnia Berry Memorial Toy Drive is under way at Food City stores across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
Held annually in memory of the young East Tennessee State University graduate who was murdered at her Knoxville apartment on Dec. 6, 2004, the drive will run through Dec. 5 at Food City stores from Greeneville to Marion, Va.
Berry’s parents, Mike and Joan Berry, kicked off the toy collection Thursday at the Food City store on South Roan Street and encouraged the community to place donations of new, unwrapped toys for children in need at Christmas in donation barrels at the stores’ entrances.
The toys are distributed each year on the anniversary of Johnia Berry’s death to charitable child service agencies throughout the region and to schoolchildren whose needs are identified by their schools. Recipients include children at the Holston United Methodist Home for Children in Greeneville, the First Judicial District Children’s Advocacy Center and Haven of Mercy in Johnson City and students in Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol schools.
Mike Berry said that on the night of his daughter’s murder, she had been out shopping for Christmas gifts for children she cared for at the ETSU Child Study Center, where she was employed through the university’s work study program. The following day, the gifts were found wrapped and sitting out in her apartment where she was attacked and fatally stabbed by an intruder.
Her family and friends conduct the toy drive annually in honor of her love for children and her wish to spend her life working to help them. Last year, the drive resulted in the donation of more than 3,000 new toys and the family’s goal is to match that number this year.
“That’s a lot of kids who wouldn’t get any toys in this economy,” Mike Berry said.
Johnia Berry’s murder, which remained unsolved for nearly three years, also spurred her parents to become advocates for legislation mandating DNA analysis for people arrested for violent felonies. In May 2007, their efforts resulted in the passage of “The Johnia Berry Act,” which made Tennessee the 13th state in the nation to require such testing. The following September, Berry’s murderer was identified through a DNA match and charged with her killing.
More information about the toy drive and the family’s ongoing efforts to broaden DNA legislation nationwide can be found online at www.johniaberry.org.