Community helps Iowa couple rebuild Share-a-Toy program -
Published Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 5:14 pm
Community helps Iowa couple rebuild Share-a-Toy program
To donate
Send money or toys to:
400 Fourth Ave.
Nodaway, IA 50857

Toys can be dropped off there as well.

For More Information:
Call Jessi Gaunt at 712-303-1295.

NODAWAY, Iowa — When you distribute 9,000 refurbished toys every Christmas, the work never really stops.

One afternoon last week, the washing machine clinked at the home of Vince and Judy Else as stuffed animals — Grover and Oscar — were cleaned inside, beady plastic eyes smacking against the tub. These stuffed animals will be distributed to needy children in 11 months as part of the Elses' Share-a-Toy program.

“We wash more toys than we do clothes,” said Judy Else, 71. She and husband Vince, 76, have been refurbishing and giving away toys to needy families at Christmas for 50 years.

The work doesn't stop even when the shop in which you stored, cleaned and repaired the toys burns down, like it did in the early-morning hours of Dec. 17.

As Judy, a retired nurse, watched the shop — actually a small 100-year-old house — burn, she thought that maybe it was God telling them that, after 50 years, it was time to hang up their Santa hats.

But then an outpouring of support from the region led them to decide to rebuild — and keep the program alive.

“We'll find a way,” said Vince, a retired school teacher. “As I've told people, when you drive down the road and hit a bump, you keep right on going.”

Private donations and tip nights at local restaurants, where all the tips are donated, have raised about $6,000 for the rebuilding effort.

The Fraternal Order of Eagles in Red Oak hosted a fish fry and bake sale Friday night.

Jessi Gaunt, 31, of nearby Red Oak is a prime mover in the fundraising effort and an administrator of the “Operation Rebuild” group on Facebook.

Gaunt was one of Vince Else's physical education students years ago in Villisca. She and other students are organizing a soup supper in February.

As an adult, Gaunt worked with Judy Else at the Villisca Good Samaritan Center. And in 2011, she and her husband, Andrew, had to use Share-a-Toy to supply gifts to their own children.

“We have five children of our own. Christmas can be pretty tight for us,” Gaunt said. “Their program really helped us out.”

There are thousands of families around southwest Iowa that might say the same thing. Demand for toys has increased in recent years as the economy has struggled, Vince said.

“Not only do kids get toys, but their parents get the satisfaction from being able to get presents for their children,” he said.

For years, the Elses refurbished the toys in their home on the south side of Nodaway, a town of about 115 in western Adams County.

Share-a-Toy began in 1962 when a student in a Sunday school class Vince taught said he would go without presents that Christmas. Vince found an old toy tractor, spruced it up and gave it to the boy's father, who presented it to him on Christmas morning.

“He came back the following Sunday, just all excited, because he got a toy for Christmas,” Vince said.

The program grew steadily over the years. About five years ago, the Elses bought the single-story white house next door for the sole purpose of repairing and storing toys. When donations arrived — from places like Red Oak, Ottumwa and southeast Nebraska — that's where they went.

Fortunately, the vast majority of the 2012 presents had already been moved out of the building at the time of the blaze. The toys are distributed at the Nodaway community center. Parents come by during set hours, and can pick up several items for each child.

It's not yet known how much it will cost to replace the shop. A metal building already has been purchased for about $5,000. The concrete work will take about that much. Then there are the plumbing, wiring, insulation …

“There's still lots to go yet,” Gaunt said.

But the Elses are ready. On their property, just south of the flattened dirt where their shop once stood, red reflectors mark off where a new 30-by-36-foot building will stand.

Rebuilding toys isn't the Elses' only good works. They also volunteer at the Food Bank and the American Heart Association, and in August they man an information booth at the Iowa State Fair, pointing the way to fried Twinkies, pork-chops-on-sticks and the butter cow. In recognition of their work, then-Gov. Chet Culver inducted them into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame in 2010.

“I guess we just enjoy doing things for other people,” Vince said. “You might say, how many men get to play with toys all day long?”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1310,

Contact the writer: Andrew J. Nelson    |   402-444-1310    |  

Andrew writes about virtually everything – crime, features, legislative news and small-town controversy – happening in Iowa.

Read more related stories
State Department moves to delay Keystone XL pipeline decision
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
The thrill of the skill: Omaha hosts statewide contest for students of the trades
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
< >
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »