Crowds of chattering children gathered around a table in a large, vacant area at the center of the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City late Friday afternoon. The children's task was to help select new toys for the center.
Rent One, which rents furniture, electronics, appliances and other products to businesses and individuals from its store at 2525 Missouri Blvd. in Jefferson City, donated $5,000 to the club to help fill the center of its building with new, commercial-grade toys, Vice President of Operations Kevin Holloway said.
"Commercial-quality toys are very expensive. I just felt like there was this tremendous need," Holloway said.
The club moved into its new 18,000-square-foot facility at 1105 Lafayette St. in May. Club leaders had expected to spend some money on new toys, but the new brick-and-mortar structure went over budget, Executive Director Stephanie Johnson said.
"Some of the things we wanted went away fast," she added. "And we began to look at commercial-quality toys. Commercial-quality toys are very expensive."
For example, she looked at two dolls. On sale, they were more than $80.
That's when Great Expectations, a foundation created by Rent One's owners, stepped in, Holloway said.
The grant from Great Expectations is the fourth it has given to the club, Johnson said. Other money from the foundation has helped pay for a computer lab and other expenses in the new building.
Club organizers thought it would be fun to let the children who use the facility help decide what toys to purchase. They placed photographs and descriptions of 10 toys on the table in the center of the room and allowed children to vote on their three favorites by placing a plastic chip in a cup alongside the photographs.
Some of the options were dolls, a wood work bench with play tools, a "fresh mart grocery store," dress-up sets and "let's play house."
Director of Elementary Programming Shauna Blanche, who has been with the organization since 2005, said she had ideas of what the children would most like.
"Legos are a huge thing," Blanche said. "Dress-up play is a huge thing for the kids. It's hands-on toys that they prefer."
Sure enough, cups quickly began to fill alongside "Chef's Kitchen and Accessory Set" and "Star Diner Restaurant and Play Set."
The grant will allow the club to buy whichever toys they need, Blanche said.
Serenity Blunt, 10, said she voted for items intended for children younger than her.
"Most weren't for me," she said. "I sketch — flowers, people, letters and shapes. But it looked great to me."
Ethan Gonzales, 10, who likes playing video games at the club, voted for some of the hands-on toys. He said he voted for things like the dressing room and the kitchen.