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Spotlight Iowa City: Toys ’R’ her

BY JORDAN FRIES | JANUARY 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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One hundred eighty-two dollars.

That was the catalyst that transformed Claudia Kline into a victim’s advocate.

A thief stole the cash from the 58-year-old one day in downtown Iowa City after she left her purse at a store.

Distraught, she went to the Iowa City police with her granddaughter, hoping to catch the culprit. As they waited for an officer, her 7-year-old granddaughter reached into the children’s toy bin, looking for something to pass the time.

She found nothing inside except a few specks of dust.

Police Chief Sam Hargadine told Kline that because of budget cuts, he couldn’t stock the toy crate set out for the station’s young visitors, maybe as witnesses to a crime or the victims of abuse or neglect cases.

“Sometimes they’re upset, and other times they’re playful, running up and down the halls, but each one of them asks to see that toy bin,” Hargadine said.

She was unsettled and asked what she could do to help.

“These children are here for something they didn’t do, and they need to know someone is looking out for them,” said Kline, a grandmother of two. “I don’t want them to be nervous, scared, or uncomfortable.”

Since that day, Kline (who did eventually get her $182 back) has become the self-proclaimed “Toy Lady” at the Police Department. Despite losing her job in 2009, she drops off anywhere from 10 to 20 toys a month, always purchasing them with her own money.

The number jumps during the holidays, but she never fails to stock the once-empty bin for children.
Every dispatcher knows her name (or nickname), and police officers say she’s become something of an integral figure.

“We have a lot of benefactors who donate to our department, and Kline is a special one,” Sgt. Denise Brotherton said. “Getting to keep the toy is really just a tiny token of appreciation for whatever the kids have been through.”

Supplying roughly 130 toys for all ages since early 2009, Kline said the obvious focus is on young toddlers who still view the police premises as a personal playground.

She doesn’t seek praise or accolades for her work.

An empty toy crate, which she says proves her generosity is not in vain, is enough of a reward.

“Sometimes as a child you feel alone, and getting something like this out of the blue from a stranger could be all you need to brighten up a day,” Kline said.

The Hills native hopes her efforts will increase awareness in the community of the many ways children can be nourished with a simple act of kindness, saying, “We never know whom we can affect in life, and children are the place to begin.”

Asked if she plans on stopping her monthly toy runs anytime soon, she shook her head, a smile slowly widening across her face.

“This is my pleasure, and I plan on doing this for as long as I can,” Kline said. “If I could just say one thing to these children, it would be to enjoy. Don’t worry about life’s stresses. Just enjoy.”


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