Held annually on the Dec. 6 anniversary of the murder of the 21-year-old East Tennessee State University graduate, this year’s distribution was the largest in the project’s history and brought the number of toys donated and distributed in Berry’s memory to more than 30,000.
Johnia’s mother, Joan Berry, said support for the drive was stronger than ever this year ,and allowed the family to add another nonprofit youth organization to the dozens of area schools and nonprofit groups that distribute the toys to children in need at Christmas.
Those represented at Wednesday night’s distribution included Bristol, Kingsport and Greeneville city and Sullivan and Washington county schools; Johnson City’s Good Samaritan Ministries and Haven of Mercy; the Community Help Center of Northeast Tennessee, located in Jonesborough; and the Little Bucs Learning Center at East Tennessee State University, where Johnia was employed during her years at ETSU.
The Berry family was inspired to lead the toy drive in Johnia’s memory after police discovered the toys she had wrapped for children she worked with at the learning center in the living room of the Knoxville apartment where she was stabbed to death by a burglar during the early morning of Dec. 6, 2004, just a few days’ short of her graduation from ETSU.
Her family delivered those gifts in time for Christmas that year, and in 2005, they launched the memorial drive at Food City stores from Greeneville to Abingdon, Virginia, where toys are collected throughout the the month preceding the annual distribution.
The distribution is held each year at the Food City store on South Roan Street, where Johnia shopped while she was a student at ETSU.
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