Santa Claus is coming to Toy Tech!
The local nonprofit Spark is happy to announce the return of its annual Toy Tech event. It will once again provide adapted toys for children with disabilities, from 3-6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Toys will be provided free at a drive-thru distribution, with assistance from some holiday helpers: a Santa Claus and elf who are themselves people with disabilities. The distribution will take place at the Spark office in South Knoxville, 116 Childress St.
Spark is East Tennessee’s technology access nonprofit agency for people with disabilities. Spark’s mission is to innovate and individually tailor technological solutions and accommodations that allow East Tennesseans with disabilities to live, work, play and contribute their skills more fully. It works to provide everything from mobility equipment to specially modified toys, depending on individual needs.
You can support Toy Tech and all of Spark’s services by donating at sparktn.org.
Each year, Spark staff members and Knox Makers volunteers modify toys for children with specific needs and distribute them at the popular Toy Tech. Overseeing the festivities this year will be Santa (Gary Harmon) and his helper (7-year-old Elliot Crabtree).
Because of Amniotic Band Syndrome, Harmon was born without feet, with no right hand, and with a palm, pinky and thumb on his left hand. He is an advocate for people with disabilities and a strong supporter of Spark.
“I’m honored to be a part of Toy Tech this year because children with disabilities deserve toys they can operate,” Harmon says. “They should have toys that make them laugh, pretend, imagine, and belong.”
The Crabtree family has a personal history with Toy Tech. Elliot, born with arthrogryposis, or AMC, uses an electric wheelchair. His range of motion is much greater now, but at birth, his mobility was severely limited.
“Elliot is really excited to be helping Santa at Toy Tech,” says his mom, Angela Crabtree. “When we discovered Spark, Elliot had zero toys that he could play with on his own, and that was so discouraging to us.”
But when he was about 9 months old, Elliot attended his first Spark Toy Tech, and he was delighted to receive a button-activated specially-modified Dancing Elmo.
“Spark gave Elliot his first toy that he could manipulate by himself,” Angela says. “He was so excited. It was a milestone moment. And now, he’s distributing toys to others this year. We love that Spark gives independence to children and a chance for them to play.”
Harmon says donning the Santa suit carries personal significance for him, too.
“When I was asked to be Toy Tech’s Santa, I began to tear up,” he says. “Children with disabilities can grow up knowing they’ve been seen and understood when they see themselves portrayed in visible ways. They should see people in movies, portrayed in books, teaching in schools, and working in all facets of society. This year, kids will see Santa portrayed by a guy with a disability. They may learn to see themselves as practical members of a community and also as the magical marvels they are.”