Steve Kilby and Sara Davis at Jingle Mingle.
Steve Kilby and Sara Davis at Jingle Mingle.

Steve Kilby wasn’t sure he was ready to organize the first Jingle Mingle in 2003. He knew it would take a lot of work to organize a charity fundraiser from scratch, but it turned out to be worth the trouble.

“I somewhat reluctantly did the event, because these things are a lot of effort, but we were so successful, with 700 attendees,” the Buckhead salesman said.

That first Jingle Mingle, an upscale party benefiting the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program, took place at a sports bar on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. The restaurant cleared out its tables to host the event, but the hundreds who showed up gridlocked Roswell Road to the point that Fulton County police arrived, Kilby said.

The officers likely would have shut the event down due to the logistical mess, but “when I pointed to the two Marines at the front door taking donations, and said they were Marines, the officers both looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, we’re Marines,’ and they turned their attention to managing traffic congestion rather than shutting the event down,” Kilby said. “It really was a magic moment.”

Kilby, who had worked with other nonprofits, started the Jingle Mingle after several charity workers he knew asked him how they could do more. He organized a group called the Atlanta Two Hundred, which hosts the formal dinner dance called the Jingle Mingle each year.

“We’re a rag-tag group of volunteers,” Kilby said.

He describes Jingle Mingle as the largest metro Atlanta area one-night event benefitting the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program. “We support their mission,” Kilby said.

This year, Jingle Mingle will be held Dec. 19 at the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia, located at 4355 Ashford-Dunwoody Road in Dunwoody.

Toys for Tots started in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1947, when Diane Hendricks asked her husband, Maj. Bill Hendricks of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, to deliver a Raggedy Ann doll she had made to an organization that would give it to a child. No such organization existed, so Bill Hendricks started one, according to Toys for Tots website.

As the director of public relations for Warner Brothers Studio, Hendricks convinced many celebrities to support Toys for Tots and, in 1948, the Marine Corps Reserve adopted the program on a nationwide basis. Walt Disney then designed the Toys for Tots logo, which the organization still uses today, the website says.

Kilby’s fundraising party connected to Toys for Tots its first year.

“The Marines were first to answer the phone and we adopted them as our charity,” Kilby said. “They were enthusiastic and excited to hear from me.”

Kilby said the Marines accept toys during the Jingle Mingle event. They take the toys to a warehouse and distribute them with the help of the United Way, which helps determine organizations can give the toys to needy families.

“The toys absolutely stay in metro Atlanta,” Kilby said. “You don’t realize it, but someone who may look okay [because he or she] has a car and apartment, will get some toys. It’s our neighbors — it’s people right beside us that may be on food stamps or assistance. The toys aren’t going to Bolivia or Tennessee; they stay right here in Atlanta.”

By 2006, Jingle Mingle attracted more than 4,000 attendees to Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead, Kilby said. The U.S. Marine Corp Reserve says on its Toys for Tots program website that 2006 was one of the biggest years on record. In 2007, the Marines flew four generals from Quantico, Va., to the Jingle Mingle, Kilby said.

Angels dancing at a Jingle Mingle charity event hosted annually by Atlanta Two Hundred.
Angels dancing at a Jingle Mingle charity event hosted annually by Atlanta Two Hundred.

Now, Kilby uses what he calls “Ambassadorettes of good will and cheer.” His 15 “Angels” are between the ages of 28 and 32, chosen on the basis of five criteria, the “least of which is looks,” Kilby said.

“The angel concept relies on personality and charisma,” Kilby said. “They have to be fit. They have to be professional, accomplished and have a charitable history. Number 5 is looks.”

Sara Davis, who has been an “Angel” several times, says her role is to serve as the “face and the inspiration” for the program. The Angels call Kilby the “Toy King,” Davis said.

“Our job is to be classy ambassadors for the event and raise awareness of the cause, aiming to reach thousands of people and help over thousands of underprivileged children to have something under the tree at Christmas,” Davis said. “It is all about bringing joy to others. It is such an incredible rewarding experience.”

Jingle Mingle sold out last year and Kilby said he expects 2,500 to 3,000 attendees this year.

When the Atlanta Two Hundred isn’t working on its flagship Jingle Mingle event, the friends work to benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“To keep Atlanta Two Hundred active in minds and hearts, we support other charities throughout the year,” Kilby said.