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Toys music brings Christmas joy to children in need

The Phil Treais Group, with Treais on vocals, Rick Beardsley on bass, Johnny Sweet on guitar, and Chris Collins on drums, performs at the Toys For Tots event. Photos by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
December 16, 2009 - With thousands of donated toys for children in need over the past 10 years, Oakland County Sportsmen's Club's Toys for Tots event rocks.

"All toys stay in southeast Michigan – that's the cool thing," said Dan Stiff, club manager. "Toys for Tots is a good group. It's a charity where donations go where they say it goes."

The fundraiser, this year featuring Phil Treais Group, Donde, Terrie Lea, Targus, Urban Nomads, Mule Drive, Skee Brothers, Charlie Allen Martin and 2XL, and Motor City Injectors, started in 1999 with music provided by a single group.

"We were approached by a band called Nightfire back in 1999 to see if we would be interested in holding a fundraiser for Toys for Tots," said Salli Petherbridge, office manager. "I thought that it was a great idea so we let them use our facility and I helped with the organization."

The following year, Nightfire did not want to participate, so the "house" band "Nothing Serious," featuring Stiff and four other club members, provided the music.

"Other local musicians were in attendance and they wanted to be included in the next year's event and the whole thing just snowballed," she said.

"This has blossomed into this crazy thing – everyone wants to play here," said Jim Hamblin, drums and percussion with Urban Nomads. "All my friends are here. This has turned into a really cool thing."

"It's so great – I'm always very proud to be part of this," said Martin, drummer and singer in Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band.

In his fifth year with Toys for Tots, he also volunteers with Make a Wish and other youth arts programs.

Devon Stacy joined organizers Stiff, Petherbridge, and Lance VanNatta about five years ago. He contributed his music experiences and connections, including with the '80's Detroit rock band, The Rockets.

"It gets bigger and better every year," Stacy said. "It' a great cause. The community helps out even in these tough times, filling up the entire building."

"This couldn't happen without all the help," Stiff said. "We'll start working on next year's event next week."

"It's a lot of fun," Petherbridge said. "It really puts us in the spirit."

Gary Rydell of Tri-Power Sound Systems joined the organization efforts last year, donating two sound systems.

"The event keeps outgrowing itself – we're trying to keep up with it," Rydell said. "I was poor when I was a kid, and organizations like this would help us out. Pay it forward, man."

The fundraiser now features bands playing on two stages for more than eight hours.

"I like to launch it every year, try to get people in sooner, like the Pied Piper," said Treais, in his fifth year on the program. "Being part of the community means giving of yourself. As a business owner and entertainer, that applies to me more than anyone."

Toys for Tots is a great cause, said Lea, who has performed at almost all of the events.

"I'll come back as long as I'm invited," she said. "It puts smiles on little kids' faces when they get toys they wouldn't have otherwise."

"It's a great cause – my one good deed of the year," said John O'Leary of 94.7 WCSX, volunteering to emcee the event. "As long as I'm walking, I'll be here."

Skee Brothers Jim and T.J. Shedlowsky, original rock-and-rollers who performed on American Bandstand in the 1950s, are also long-time participants in the event. Jim, Clarkston High School Class of 1954, is also a member of the club.

"We're here to support this wonderful event," he said.

"It's amazing how much music entertainers are from around here," Stiff said.

Cash donations to the fundraiser since 2001 total $5,770, and event attendees also donate checks directly to Toys for Tots. Monetary donations were down from $1,100 last year to $650 this year, but toy donations were about the same.

"This is wonderful," said Marine Lt. Col. Ben Richmond, representing Toys for Tots. "It shows how many people's hearts are in the right place in this community. The outpouring of generosity is impressive."

"This is a great turnout," said Marine Lt. Col. Chris Walker. "This is always an awesome event. It's amazing how much work it takes."

"This is a good thing to do," Stiff said. "High school students do their community service projects. People have a great time, with great music."

Petherbridge also volunteers at Toys for Tots distribution, where parents fill their children's wish lists.

"We have rooms filled with Barbies, Legos, Playdoh – children get a game, stuffed animal, big item, and small item," Petherbridge said. "In families with a few children, the bag gets heavy."

For more information, call Oakland County Sportsmen's Club, 4770 Waterford Road, at 248-623-0444.

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