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Couple donates hard-won toys
4 Stuffed Animals pic
For the past three years, Gretchen Rogers and Mark Mote have distributed Christmas gifts to local children. The presents come from the couples skill with coin-operated claw machines. - photo by Frank Reddy Dawson Community News

You know those glass-case machines with the stuffed animals? You put in 50 cents and try to grab a toy with the mechanical claw?


Pretty tough, right?


One Dawson County couple has not only mastered the machines, they’re using their coin-operated skills to win Christmas gifts for local children.


Gretchen Rogers and fiance, Mark Mote, have pumped quarter after quarter into prize machines at grocery stores and gas stations to collect holiday gifts.


They’ve won 94 stuffed animals over the past 11 months, and they plan to give them out to children and seniors in the Wal-Mart parking lot Thursday morning.


Rogers said it’s the third year the couple has done this.


“This year, we got more toys than we’ve ever gotten before, so I guess we’re getting better at it,” she said with a laugh.


“We decided three years ago that we’re going to stop thinking about ourselves. The real meaning of Christmas is thinking about the children and the way they feel when they have a good Christmas.”


The couple agreed to stop buying gifts for each other in order to afford the stuffed animals.


They have also given up eating out at restaurants all year in favor of adding to the stack of furry cartoon characters and teddy bears.


“When we go out shopping for our groceries or for errands, we play those games with the grab-claws,” she said.


Rogers said sometimes they’ll spend $5 trying to win a toy, while others they can nab on the first try.


“Some of them are really hard, but we mean business when we go in there,” she said. “It’s not just a game to us anymore.”


It wasn’t always easy, but they’ve learned a few tricks.


“The easiest way to get the big [toys], you take the claw and run it across the toys, sideways,” she said. “That way it knocks against them. They’re easier to grab from the side than from the top.”


They’re not sure how much they’ve spent collecting the gifts.


“I’ve never sat down and added it up,” she said.


“But you can’t put a price on it. It feels good to see the children’s faces light up. That’s a good feeling. That’s our Christmas.”