A merry mix-up involving Toys for Tots in Southside Virginia

Contributed photo by Jessica Rodgers

By Amie Knowles

December 12, 2023

It sounds like a real-life tale from a Charles Dickens novel, but fear not: In classic style, all the twists turn around for good by the end.

Imagine the shock and sadness of stolen toys at Christmastime. Now take it a step further and make them donated toys for children in need.

That’s the story that seemed to unfold in Danville at Planet Fitness last week. The local gym, part of a chain known for its “Judgement Free Zone” approach to workouts, chose to participate as a donation location for the annual Toys for Tots drive.

Toys for Tots is a national program spearheaded by the US Marine Corps Reserves, connecting toys with children whose parents can’t afford to purchase holiday gifts. The campaign serving the Danville and Martinsville areas gave away more than 1,700 toys to children in need last year.

The donation drive was well underway at the Danville gym, a location which Planet Fitness employee Jessica Rodgers said has participated for “at least nine years.” Hundreds of dollars worth of toys were filling up in the boxes when a woman entered the gym on Dec. 4, claiming to have authorization to pick up the items. After presenting an email from Toys for Tots to the staff at the front desk, she left with the donations.

Here’s where things get tricky: Both Planet Fitness and the local US Marine Corps recruiting station are located in the Riverside Shopping Center. It didn’t add up that Toys for Tots would ask for the items with nearly two weeks left in the donation drive, especially given their close proximity.

Rodgers left a note at the recruiting station about the toy pickup, and the situation went all the way to the Danville Police Department. The local law enforcement agency opened an investigation and requested the public’s help identifying the woman, sharing a picture of her taken from the gym’s security equipment.

In an ironic twist, it was the woman pictured who contacted police.

After seeing the department’s press release about the incident, she called to resolve the issue. As it turns out, the woman mistakenly walked into Planet Fitness to collect the toys instead of going next door to the Toys for Tots office where she was supposed to retrieve items.

The Danville Police Department noted in a follow-up press release that no crime was committed, it was a misunderstanding on the part of Planet Fitness staff, and the woman returned the donated toys to the gym.

In all of the twists and turns of the misunderstanding, there is a silver lining: Once news broke of the supposed “theft,” community members started bringing donations to replace the missing toys.

“We’ve already had several people come and bring some (toys),” Rodgers said. “Who knows, they could end up getting more!”

Toys for Tots donations will continue at the Danville Planet Fitness location until Friday, Dec. 15.

“Tell everybody to rally and come bring a toy,” Rodgers said. “Blow the horn, I’ll come out and get it. You don’t even have to come in.”

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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