In this otherwise strange year, one thing is for certain: Brandon Welk – Brando to his friends – will not let COVID-19 or anything else get in the way of his annual Christmas Toy Drive for needy families.
Welk is a glassblower/artist with a studio in Spokane. The toy drive has always been an online event, so the pandemic really hasn’t affected his efforts. People who need help making Christmas a reality for their kids know how to reach out to him on Facebook.
What makes his different from other toy drives is that he identifies the families, finds out what they need or want, and does the shopping, so the kids get items they actually want or need.
“It’s so much fun to go shopping with $10,000 in cash,” Welk said. “Everyone asks what we’re doing.”
He said he once received a $4,000 donation, wired directly into his bank account.
For incentive and extra fun, people who donate cash or toys for the fund are entered into contests to win glass pieces donated by various local glassblowers.
This year he might do some videos of some of the prizes, which can be very pricey.
Welk will also ask glass collectors he knows to donate, because he serves 200 to 300 kids every Christmas.
He has a warm way about him which comes naturally. Some of the kids he gets gifts for have lived through horrendous circumstances, he said, and he feels that if there is a need, and he can do something about it, he will.
“I have debilitating empathy for people,” he said. “I’m a magnet for people in need.”
He said some developmentally disabled people just come to him and start talking to him. Maybe he got this empathy from one of his grandmothers, who had an adult family home at her own residence.
He lived with her for a while, and calls her his “first best friend.” In fact, he said he was a pretty lucky in the grandma department because at one time, due to divorce, new marriages, etc., he had eight grandmothers.
Once he gets his list of families in need together, he goes shopping. The toys are brought back to his glass studio where everything is sorted out and put into bags.
Welk said if someone requests something super expensive, for example a gaming system, he puts out his feelers for a gently used one or someone who is willing to buy one and donate it.
Putting all the bags together is when he needs the most help, but along with the other glassblowers, they usually have things under control.
One story that stands out was a request from a family in Sandpoint, Idaho, on Christmas Eve. Welk personally drove there in a snowstorm to deliver a bike.
Is he Santa Claus? No! But he’s OK being called Brando Claus, and has even created a glass Brando Claus ornament. If you buy one, you will be entered into future drawings for glass.
As much as Welk enjoys putting on the toy drive, it is time consuming; plus, he has a family of his own, and a business to run. He said he’d like to do the drive for two more years after this year, reaching a total of 10 years. Then he’d love to pass it on to someone else.
But if no one else steps forward, he will most likely keep going.
Fellow glassblowers Royal Stumph and Steve Beer also get involved each year by hosting a holiday movie night/toy drive at the Garland Theater, where a donation or toy is the entrance fee. Unfortunately, the Garland remains closed out of precaution amid rising COVID-19 cases this fall. As of now, Stumph said they plan to have drop boxes for toys at various locations, such as glass studios and The Smoke Shop downtown.
If you would like to contribute to Brando’s Toy Drive, you can send financial donations to his PayPal account at email@example.com, or drop new toys off at his studio at 5324 E. Desmet Ave., in Spokane.
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