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Toy drive turns 10
Effort rooted in experience on 9/11
Toys WEB 1
Jaylee LaFrance talks with Santa during a Toys for Tots party at Rooster’s Cafe. - photo by Autumn Vetter

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Cory Coulter will continue collecting new, unwrapped toys for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program from 6 to 10 p.m. tonight and Friday at Rooster’s Café, 216 Atlanta Hwy. in Cumming.

Hundreds of toys were collected Tuesday night for children in need this Christmas season.

Held at Rooster’s Café in Cumming, the 10th anniversary of a Marine Corps Toys for Tots drive was a success, said the event’s founder Cory Coulter.

“We ended up with too many to count,” he said. “But based on what I’ve seen in previous years, I’m pretty sure we cleared more than 1,000 toys.

“What’s even better is that even with the economy like it is, we’ve still managed to do that for the past few years.”

Coulter began the drive in 2001. He was inspired to give back to the community after having been inside the Word Trade Center in New York City on 9/11.

While he has been a resident of Cumming since 1996, Coulter was on a business trip the day of the terrorist attacks.

“It was really a fluke thing why I was there that day,” he said. “I was there for some training for my job at the time.”

Coulter said he was sitting in a room on the 25th floor of the South Tower, when the first airplane struck the North Tower at 8:46 a.m.

Coulter, who evacuated after the first tower was hit, was able to get more than a mile from the site before the buildings fell.

Coulter’s wife of 24 years, Ginny, said the day was one of the worst of her life.

“It was midafternoon before I knew he was safe,” she said. “It was horrible.”

That year, Coulter decided he wanted to truly celebrate life. So for his 39th birthday on Dec. 10, he played host to a birthday party for some friends.

“Basically I wanted to celebrate my 39th birthday because I was having it,” he said. “But I wanted to keep my friends from bringing me a bunch of presents. Instead, I wanted them to bring presents for Toys for Tots.”

That first year only netted about “half a dozen toys,” so the next year, Coulter said he “wanted to do it big.”

Kenny Westbrook and Mike Parker, owners of Rooster’s Café, were happy to help.

“Cory had been a regular customer for a while, so after he approached us, we said having the parties here was a great idea,” Westbrook said. “The fact that we’re doing something great for kids for Christmas is what Christmas is all about.”

Marvin Lord and his wife, Grace, have attended the event every year.

“There’s no place we’d like to be more than here,” Lord said. “It’s a good thing for underprivileged children and it’s a good time socially.”

Meredith Estep worked with Coulter during the events of 9/11. She’s also attended the toy drive every year.

“When we received the phone call that he was OK, we were so glad to hear from him,” she recalled. “Now his [World Trade Center] visitor’s badge from that day is his badge of honor.”

Wife Ginny said she wasn’t surprised her husband wanted to start something for those in need.

“That’s just the kind of guy he is,” she said. “But I didn’t envision we’d have this much success with it.”

Every year since 2008, Coulter’s goal for the event is collect at least 1,000 toys. And it’s been reached every time.

And each year, the event brings new meaning for the couple. 

“It’s kind of my renewal of spirit,” Ginny Coulter said. “It reminds me what life is really all about.”