Photography by Emery Bastable.

During the pandemic, Lakewood neighbors Kelsey Hills and Gable Roby met at TCBY to talk. One topic that often emerged was how the virus was hurting the most vulnerable in society, especially children and families aided by organizations like Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center. 

Hills, who had recently moved from Lake Highlands, was looking for a way to get involved after leaving her job at Neiman Marcus. She remembered the Jingle Ride event from her previous neighborhood. A group of volunteers drove past houses, collecting toys from families right in their front yards to donate to Pamper Lake Highlands.  

A toy parade seemed perfect for a pandemic and for Lakewood. 

“This neighborhood is so social,” Roby says. “This neighborhood thrives on community events, on themed events, and I think we felt isolated and depressed that there were likely going to be no holiday gatherings.” 

Because it was an outdoor event, neighbors could stay socially distanced.

Hills and Roby do other philanthropic projects, but this one was different. It was an opportunity for their children to get involved and learn what giving can be — “tangible, difference-making philanthropy,” Roby says. 

“At this age, how do you get them involved in a way that they understand?” Hills says. “That might be financial giving, but there’s also giving of your time and to things that are important to you and why and having the opportunity to discuss that and give them an opportunity to see it for themselves and experience.”

Planning for the December 2020 event began in November, so it had to come together quickly. Selecting DCAC as the receiving organization took “less than three seconds,” Roby says. Hills took on the graphic design work. Roby, who grew up in Lakewood, had the connections.

They invited Jill Scovell and Jessie Stanton to help. Scovell is creatively inclined and came up with the idea to wrap boxes and place them on top of cars. Stanton brought a business-minded approach and helped with the decorating. Everyone’s kids, 11 in total, helped pass out fliers to spread word about the parade. 

Event organizers hired a Santa, rented a trailer and drove around the neighborhood collecting gifts, their kids dressed as elves as they gathered presents. 

“We put it together so quickly and really had no idea what to expect,” Hills says. 

Neighbors turned the event into a party. They came out of their houses dressed in festive outfits, holiday music playing, and the little ones took photos with Santa. 

About 500 families donated gifts. 

“It was an overwhelming outpouring from the community, the neighborhood here,” Hills says. “People just came out in droves, which we didn’t really expect.”

Organizers had to empty the trailer twice to make room for all the presents. At the end of the night, Jessica Short, a development officer at DCAC, came with her daughter, who normally would have been sleeping, to help move about $25,000 worth of gifts to the DCAC building. 

They met at the Hills’ house to debrief and made a list about what they could do better next time. 

There was no question the toy drive had to happen this year, but planning started much earlier, in August. 

DCAC called the meeting to begin discussing sponsorships, which kickstarted the entire planning process. Using the list they made after last year’s toy drive, they split up tasks, with Kiley and Jason White joining. They made plans to set up a website and social media accounts, instead of using Roby’s personal page.

The route is mostly the same, but they are renting a U-Haul to store gifts they collect throughout the night. With sponsorships and a more targeted marketing campaign, they’re hoping to double what they collected last year. 

“I think one of the things that made this particular event really successful and why we’re excited to push it further this year is because most of the philanthropy done in this neighborhood, a lot of the events are school driven,” Roby says. “And this was an equalizer. It was an outside-focused event. It just solidified our geography.”

The toy drive is scheduled for 1:30-5 p.m. Dec. 4.