WMOA Radio kicks off stuffed animal drive

MARIETTA – Dinosaurs, monkeys, puppies and bears piling up in the front window of the Workingman’s Store in Marietta.

WMOA Radio’s Christmas Zoo kicked off Monday with live radio broadcasts from the front window of the store at 113 Putnam St. and the annual stuffed animal and fund drive was immediately off to a great start, said WMOA owner John Wharff.

“Already in the first three days we’ve got about 20 animals. We never take it for granted but we hope listeners continue to embrace what we do,” he said.

Now entering its 23rd year, the annual drive has collected and distributed more than 19,000 stuffed animals for area children in need.

Those animals are distributed by a variety of local organizations, such as Washington-Morgan County Community Action, The Salvation Army, EVE, Inc., and mean a lot to the children who receive them, said Jessica Dearth, child advocate for EVE Inc.

“A lot of these children are so happy to get anything and without programs like this there are kids who would wake up Christmas morning and have nothing,” she said.

EVE Inc., distributes the majority of their stuffed animals during a client Christmas party, but they also save stuffed animals to be given to children entering their emergency shelter throughout the year, said Dearth.

“It’s a new experience. It can be kind of scary and we like to give them something they can turn to for comfort,” she added.

The Christmas Zoo has been held at The Workingman’s Store for several years now and it is always fun to see the front window take shape with all the various donations, said owner Dave Schramm.

“They’ll just fill that thing up. It’s a huge event. It’s so well supported and it’s just amazing to see what the outpouring of support is for this thing,” he said.

Like in years past, WMOA disc jockeys-dubbed zoo keepers for the season-will be broadcasting live from the store’s front window. This year they are doubling their presence, said Wharff.

“We’ll be there seven days a week,” he said.

Zoo keepers will be broadcasting from the store from 6 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today, and on various times Sunday.

WMOA disc jockey Kyle Wenzel has been participating in the Christmas Zoo for around 20 years and has a stash of great memories of years past.

Years ago, the station held the zoo in the window of the former First Settlement Restaurant, he said.

“One year at First Settlement a car pulled up and a guy asked us if there were any drop-off locations for toys nearby,” recalled Wenzel.

The gentleman had no idea what the Christmas Zoo was and stumbled upon the broadcast entirely by chance, but he had a trunk full of toys that he was looking to donate to a charity.

“Out of nowhere this guy came and gave us hundreds of toys,” he said.

While stuffed animals were the original focus of the drive, it has expanded to include toys, games, and “anything to keep kids occupied and happy,” said Wenzel.

In recent years, the Christmas Zoo has partnered with the Marietta Community Foundation to collect funds for local nonprofit organizations as well.

Last year, the Christmas Zoo split its donations among four area food pantries, the Washington County Boys and Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity, said Wharff.

New this year is a $500 cash giveaway for those who donate, he added.

Donations are being accepted through Dec. 23 and can be brought into The Workingman’s Store anytime during store hours or during the live broadcast. Monetary donations can be mailed to WMOA at 925 Lancaster St. or to the WMOA Christmas Zoo Fund at the Marietta Community Foundation at 100 Putnam St.