Memorial drive sends thousands of toys to area children in need

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Dec 6, 2018 at 10:20 PM

With a 50-foot row of shopping buggies stacked 5-feet high with toys, Johnia Berry’s mother was certain her daughter was dancing in heaven Thursday as the 13th annual Johnia Berry Memorial Toy Drive distributed gifts for hundreds of area children in need.

Berry family members and representatives of schools and nonprofit organizations across Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia converged for the distribution outside the Food City store on South Roan Street early Thursday evening on the anniversary of Johnia’s Dec. 6, 2004, murder at her Knoxville apartment.

Inspired by the gifts 21-year-old Johnia had wrapped for the children she worked with at East Tennessee State University’s “Little Bucs” Care Center on the evening prior to her death at the hands of a would-be robber, the toy drive has been conducted each Christmas season since 2006.

As the toys went out this year, Johnia’s mother, Joan Berry, credited the many people who gave toys, money, time and labor to the monthlong drive conducted each fall at Food City stores from Abingdon, Virginia, to Greeneville.

“There are a lot of volunteers and lot of hard work behind this drive,” she said. “It wouldn’t be possible without it.

“From early November through today, several thousand toys have been donated. I know Johnia is dancing in heaven because Johnia loved toys and Johnia loved children.”

In addition to her family members, Joan Berry said the toy drive’s helpers this year included teams of volunteers from United Health Care, Cumberland Mountain Community Services in Virginia and the Civanettes Club at Tennessee High School, where Johnia attended. The club collected toys and conducted fundraisers throughout the year to help support the drive.

And then there were the anonymous contributors, Berry said, including one man who donated five bicycles. “I don’t even know who he is.”

The end result was 14 area schools and a number of charitable organizations that will be assisted this year in their Christmas gift-giving projects for children in need.

<p><em>Email Sue Guinn Legg at <a href="mailto:[email protected]" target="_blank">[email protected]</a>. Follow her on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.twitter.com/sueleggjcpress" target="_blank">Twitter @sueleggjcpress</a>. Like her on Facebook at <a href="/facebook.com/sueleggjcpress" target="_blank">facebook.com/sueleggjcpress</a>.</em></p>

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