Christmas Zoo open on Putnam

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times WMOA 1490 AM radio public service director Kyle Wenzel accepts the gift of stuffed toy bears from Lauren Allen and Carol Wolfe of Belpre on Wednesday afternoon in the display window of The Workingman’s Store at 109 Putnam St. The radio station will take contributions of cash or stuffed animal toys through Dec. 22 for distribution as Christmas gifts to needy children.

On a good day or a bad one, for many children there’s nothing quite like hugging a stuffed toy animal.

“To one person, it’s a stuffed animal but to another it could be a friend, something to hug when they need it,” said John Wharff, owner of WMOA 1490 AM radio.

The station has collected and distributed stuffed animals for needy children (and probably more than a few adults) for 27 years in its Christmas Zoo drive. This year, the collection can be viewed in the storefront window of The Workingman’s Store at 109 Putnam St., home to the drive for the 11th year.

On Wednesday afternoon, Lauren Allen and Carol Wolfe from Belpre stopped by the store, carrying two large bears, as WMOA staffer Kyle Wenzel was starting his 2 to 6 p.m. broadcast from the midst of dozens of stuffed bears, dogs, monkeys and other critters.

Allen said the two regularly contribute to the drive.

“We do this every year. We want to help every child have a wonderful Christmas,” Allen said.

Wenzel said he’s been working at WMOA for 25 years and been a “zookeeper for 20.” He sees many of the same people coming back to contribute year after year, and three-fourths of the contributions to the drive come from people who just drop off a toy or two.

According to Wharff, the drive has collected and given away more than 22,000 stuffed animal toys since it began in 1990. The toys are given to local organizations including the Salvation Army, the Secret Santa program run by Washington-Morgan County Contumacy Action, the Gospel Mission Food Pantry, First Presbyterian Church, EVE Incorporated and other community groups.

The drive also accepts monetary donations, which can be sent to the Marietta Community Foundation, P.O. Box 77, Marietta, Ohio, 45750, or dropped off at the foundation’s office.

The project started out in the window of the Sugden Book Store on Front Street, moved to the JC Penney store the next year, went to the First Settlement Restaurant in 1997 and finally moved to The Workingman’s Store, where it has remained for 11 years.

“Everybody looks forward to it,” said store owner Dave Schramm. “There are many supporters who have done this for years, and now their kids have grown up but they keep bringing in toys.

“Wait until you see it when it’s full,” he said, gesturing at the window.

At a glance

WMOA Radio Christmas Zoo Fund

¯ What: Taking donations of stuffed animals for Christmas gifts for needy children.

¯ Where: The Workingman’s Store, 109 Putnam St.

¯ When: Daily through Dec. 22.

¯ Information: Call WMOA Radio at 740-373-1490.

¯ Listen: WMOA 1490 AM.