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story.lead_photo.caption PJ McMurray draws back on a bow and arrow during an archery competition at the Society for Creative Anachronism's annual Toys for Tots toy drive on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at The Zone in Jefferson City, Mo. McMurray has been a part of SCA on and off for about 15 years. (Ethan Weston/News Tribune photo)

A woman carrying a box of new toys arrived Saturday morning at the The Zone.

That wasn't unusual, more than 200 other people dropped off new toys to be given to the U.S. Marine Corps League's Toys for Tots, who will distribute them this Christmas.

What was unusual about the woman was that she was dressed in civilian clothes. Others arriving all wore their best period-appropriate garments for the annual Society for Creative Anachronism toy and money drive. The international Medieval reenactment group returned to hold a toy drive this year, after canceling last year's event because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The woman told organizers she simply wanted to donate to the program.

Participants (and those who wanted to be generous) had donated more than 2,250 toys by about 11 a.m.

Seventy boxes surrounded society volunteers, who sorted through the toys as they arrived.

In the background, the sounds of Medieval-style sporting combat rang through The Zone.

Maria Geeslin, an organizer of the event, said Society for Creative Anachronism participants wished to do all they could for Toys for Tots and the children the program serves. About 200 society members took part in Saturday's toy collections and in tournament games.

Games included archery, armored combat, youth combat and cut-and-thrust competitions.

The group has held the tournaments for about 30 years, Geeslin said.

"It's slowly grown bigger and bigger and bigger," she said. "It started when about five or six of us said 'Hey, let's start a tournament. Hey, let's do it for Toys for Tots.'"

It's a "pay to play" scenario, she explained. If people want to fight in the tournament, they have to bring at least one toy that fits Toys for Tots requirements — toys have to be brand new, cost at least $5 and be in original packaging and unwrapped.

"That caught on. And it grew momentum, and grew momentum, because we turn everything into a competition to help motivate people for a charitable cause," Geeslin said.

They ended up creating the "whoever brings the most toys wins" competition.

And they bring toys. Many, many toys.

A man, partially armored, walked in with his hands full of toys, including a large pink and white unicorn.

Others had stuffed animals drooped over their arms.

Organizers, surrounded by boxes, quickly sorted toys by potential age groups, gender and styles of toys.

Participants came in from Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska and other neighboring states, Geeslin said.

"People travel a long way to be here. And, they bring so many toys," she said. "Boxes and boxes and bags and bags of toys.

"To the point where Harold (Faughn) said, 'Can you do us a solid and sort these as you get them?'"

Faughn, the Cole County coordinator for the Toys for Tots program, said the program had sorely missed the help offered by the society.

And, he added, the generosity on display this early this year was nearly overwhelming. He and Master Sgt. Claus (another local volunteer) had prepared to fill fifty of the Toys for Tots donation boxes at the event. However, when they saw the response brought in 20 more.

Near the site in the building where volunteers sorted donations, archers competed to see who most resembled Robin the Hood.

Archers faced targets that contained sheets of paper. Each sheet had a drawing of one side of a die. A judge rolled a die to indicate which target to aim for. So, archers would have to shoot at the paper with the corresponding paper.

In another area, competitors competed in armored combat. A herald announced their names, what houses they represented and other information. Then, they would strike at each other with bamboo rods, "spears" or staffs. None of the "weapons" contained metal, and all were blunted. Those competitors whom judges determined received blows, "succumbed" to their wounds and fell dead.

Each was heavily padded, wore elbow and knee protection, and wore helmets.

Helmets are very heavy to help protect from neck injuries, according to John Eddy.

"Unless I'm hit somewhere that I don't have armor, it doesn't really hurt," Helena Soranzo said. "I can feel the pressure."

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