Kentucky Veteran's Christmas Toy Drive for Young Tornado Victims Raises More Than $100,000

“I didn’t want kids to be overlooked that close to Christmas.”

Shawn Triplett saw many terrible things in the aftermath of the EF4 tornado that devastated his hometown of Mayfield, Kentucky, earlier this month. But it was the image of a young boy the retired Marine couldn't get out of his head.

"I saw a boy at the shelter crying in his mom's arms. I heard him say he had lost his Christmas," he recalled to Southern Living. "I didn't sleep that night. I knew somebody had to do something. I figured everyone was doing food, and generators, and housing. I didn't want kids to be overlooked that close to Christmas."

Shawn Triplett
Shawn Triplett

So, Triplett, a father of two, took to social media for help buying toys for the dozens of kids whose families lost everything in the deadly storm.

The grassroots initiative took off, and by December 14 he had raised $10,000. As media attention grew, he set up a GoFundMe. In just over a week, Triplett raised close to $100,000.

"It's been unreal," he told People, a Southern Living sister publication. "It started as just family and friends helping, to now donations coming in from all over the globe."

"Our original goal was to support 30 kids, but because of the GoFundMe, we're able to reach hundreds of kids—and that's my biggest joy, being able to give these kids so much," he adds. "The support has been humbling and overwhelmingly incredible."

But Triplett didn't do it alone. He partnered with a local Walmart, which agreed to provide a 25% discount on all purchases for him. A group of volunteers helped wrap nearly 20,000 gifts, which he delivered in a Santa Claus suit.

Now, with Christmas behind him, he told Southern Living that "there's still more to be done."

Triplett's toy drive is still going strong, though he's shifting the focus towards older kids. He's adding things like gift cards and video game systems to the mix—gifts teenagers will appreciate.

"There's still a lot of older kids that need something. They're living in hotel rooms or condemned buildings," Triplett said. "They were overlooked. They need something as well."

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