Family Turns Tamales Into Toys

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For the past 10 years, Payson Town Clerk Silvia Smith has spent her two-week vacation each November making hundreds of tamales for an annual toy drive she and her husband, Don, produce each December.


"It takes the whole two weeks to make the tamales," Smith said Monday.


Smith and her family then host a community feast at their home and business in Ox Bow Estates and charge toys for admission.


The couple's efforts have paid off in the collection of 5,000 toys for needy children over the years.


"I don't have any idea how many children we've helped," Smith said, "but we've averaged between 375 and 400 toys a year."


The Smiths, who serve the tamales with beans, chips and salsa, cakes and beverages, collect the toys and donate them to the Local Law Enforcement Toy Drive for distribution.


Last Saturday, a steady stream of residents and visitors, drawn by the heady aroma of Smith's homemade beef tamales, brought toys to exchange for heaping plates of food.


The Smiths, who privately fund the feast with the help of more than half a dozen family members, Golden Eagle Sales, Budweiser and Pepsi, host lunch and dinner crowds from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each year.


Smith and her helpers cooked up nearly 500 tamales this year for the 11th annual Tamales for Toys Drive. By the end of the day, the Smiths had collected an open trailer full of bicycles, trikes, dolls, stuffed animals, games, toy trucks, toy cars and a variety of other toys.


The Smiths begin working on the event each August. That's when the chilies are ripe for roasting, peeling and freezing. Then, in November, Don roasts and shreds the meat -- 300 pounds of beef this year -- and Silvia makes the tamales.


Don takes a few days off work before the event each year to clean and prepare his shop, Custom "S" Welding, which is on the property where the couple lives.


The question begs to be asked: how do they pay for all this?


"This year, we were so organized," Silvia Smith said. "It just really went smooth. We got 423 toys and had at least 300 people here."


In the beginning, back in 1988, it was Don who got Tamales for Toys started, his wife said.


The Smiths are avid Harley riders and had attended a number of "toy rides" in Phoenix. Don convinced Silvia and his friends that he could make a toy drive work here in Payson.


"That first year, I called my daughter up and asked if she'd help me make tamales that evening and the next day," Smith said. "But it was Don and his friends who decided, 'We're going to do this,'" she said.


Silvia just said, "Why not?"

The sale that first year was on a Sunday, as soon as the tamales were ready. Smith and her daughter worked through the night Friday and all day Saturday to prepare the food.


"One thing you just never do," Smith said, "and that is tell Don he can't do something."

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