Harris County Emergency Services District 48 conducted a great Toys for Tots drive this year, thanks to a strong response from the public and one truly exceptional donation from an area resident and her daughter.
That resident, Tracy Varendorff, donated more than 300 radio-controlled helicopters to accompany between 60 and 70 other items for a total of more than $10,000 worth of gifts tallied by ESD 48 in the annual donation campaign.
Tracy grew up with a deep fondness and respect for firefighters. For more than 20 years, her late grandfather, Clarence Knapp, served as fire chief at Travis Air Force Base in California. After 25 years of working in the Houston area’s petroleum industry, Tracy is preparing to move from Houston to Sacramento with her 10-year-old daughter, Venus, due to economic factors affecting her field. Tracy had a lot of items she could not take on the trip to California, and was all set to take a large number of toys to a local auction.
But when she heard a request on the radio for donations to the local “Toys for Tots” campaign, Tracy realized she had found the best way to give back before moving on.
“My entire family has a long tradition of respecting others and serving the community,” Tracy said. “My granddad, Clarence Knapp, was the first fire chief of Travis Air Force Base in California, and he instilled a sense of respect for service and the value of giving back in all his children. I know he’d be pleased to see the tradition continuing,” she said.
Tracy’s background is a unique story in itself. She was raised in Perth, Australia by an American mother and Australian father, and has a distinctive “Aussie/Texan” accent. Her daughter, Venus, while accompanying her mother in donating the toys, clearly had a great time meeting the firefighters and touring one of the firehouses.
“I know my daughter is learning by example, and probably learned a valuable lesson this Christmas,” Tracy said. “I hope Venus will continue the family tradition of giving back for many years to come.”
Meanwhile, Harris County Emergency Services District 48 Public Information Officer Simon Van Dyk said exceptional generosity such as that shown by Tracy and her daughter will make Christmas Day a lot brighter for many children across the West Houston-Katy area. “When I spoke with Tracy, I was impressed that in the midst of so much uncertainty with her job and an upcoming move that she was focused on making Christmas great for families she has never met,” Van Dyk said.
“This year’s Toys for Tots drive is by far the most successful we’ve ever seen. Because of the overwhelming generosity of the community, the Marines picked up over 900 presents which I know will brighten the day of hundreds of families this Christmas,” Van Dyk added.
As Tracy and Venus move on to California, they can take pride in leaving a legacy of generosity that would make Santa Claus proud — and maybe a little envious.