How the “Dirty Rotten Toy Drive” Uses Music to Help Make Christmas Bright

Christopher Gold Dirty Rotten Toy Drive

Before he trimmed his beard, local singer-songwriter Christopher Gold could’ve almost passed as a young version of Santa Claus…with a few extra tattoos and piercings.

He lives in Appleton, not the North Pole. And he carries a guitar instead of a sack full of presents. But over the past several years, Gold has found his own way of bringing people together to put smiles on the faces of local kids who may need help having a Merry Christmas.

Gold and some of his connections in the music community have been getting together over the holidays to put on a concert while collecting toys and donations to support victims of domestic abuse. This year, Gold and friends are hoping to make more of an impact than ever before, but they need your help.

The Dirty Rotten Toy Drive to benefit Harbor House of Appleton will mark its fourth year on December 13th, at the legendary Cranky Pat’s Pizzeria in Neenah.

You’re probably wondering why this toy drive is “Dirty & Rotten.”

It’s not a way to get rid of the chewed-on, filthy junk in your kid’s playroom. And it’s not a toy drive for children on the Naughty List either. The fundraiser actually gets its name from Gold’s former band, The Dirty Rotten So & So’s.

While that blues-punk band isn’t playing together regularly at this time, the name lives on through this good cause. “There is talk about possibly doing a final show next year, maybe getting together every year for the toy drive, but I wouldn’t want to commit to anything right now,” Gold says.

These days, you’ll usually find Christopher Gold playing solo at venues around Wisconsin, the Midwest and beyond. It’s been a busy year for the punk rocker turned folk musician. He seemed to be everywhere you looked during the 2014 Mile of Music festival. Plus, Gold also released a new album of original songs featuring The New Old Things, a supporting band made up of other Fox Valley performers.


Courtesy: Larry Radloff Photography

The 2014 Dirty Rotten Toy Drive will also include music from the Redhawks, Mark Steven Hillstrom and Joseph Huber.

“These are good friends of mine who’s music I really and truly love,” Gold says. “The lineup this year is diverse and cohesive at the same time. I guess the common thread is what you would call Americana, but the night will range from folk to country to bluegrass to straight up rock & roll.”

While Gold looks forward to this concert each year, he doesn’t actually want the spotlight to be on the musicians or their music. There are more important things to think about.

“This year I will be playing my solo stuff with my full band The New Old Things, but I try not to make these shows about the band that I’m playing with, or any of the other acts really,” he says.  “I hope the focus is on the cause.”

Why Harbor House Needs Holiday Help

Gold says he chose to start an event to support Harbor House at Christmastime simply because no one else was doing it. In addition to being a musician, he’s also a father, and it’s obvious there’s a place in his heart reserved for kids.

“Ask yourself what you would want for your kids, and then ask yourself what you can do to make sure everybody can have that,” he says when asked why others should support Harbor House.

“Everybody deserves to feel safe, especially children. Those kids also deserve as a good a Christmas as any other kid. Fortunately, it seems this is helping to make that happen.”

Harbor  House LogoHarbor House marketing manager, Jenny Krikava, says the annual toy drive is definitely helpful. It does more than put a toy in a kid’s hands. It helps mend families.

“Each year, 300 – 350 children stay at Harbor House. Often times in an abusive home, the mother-child relationship is strained because the abusive individual dictates all aspects of how the home will be run, including the discipline of the children. When children are removed from that environment, they often challenge and even disrespect their mothers,” Krikava says.

“Children who grow up in violent homes are at greater risk to repeat the cycle of domestic violence within their relationships.  Chris gets that and is committed to our efforts to help children heal and grow up to have healthy, loving relationships.”

Harbor House uses the toys collected through the Dirty Rotten Toy Drive for birthdays as well as Christmas presents. But they also distribute them in a unique way. The gifts don’t come to the children from Christopher Gold, or even from Harbor House. Gifts come from the moms.

“Mother’s have access to our toy room, which takes away any worries she might have about how she can get a gift for her child for a birthday or other special celebration while in the shelter or getting back on her feet while still accessing services from Harbor House,” Krikava explains.

“This gesture of gift giving has powerful impact in multiple ways, empowering mom by being able to provide for her child, helping heal the relationship between mother and child, which ultimately improves the child’s ability to cope.”

In 2013, the Dirty Rotten Toy Drive brought in more than 200 toys and more than $2,000 to support Harbor House. Gold’s hope is that those numbers keep going up this year and over holiday seasons to come.

“I don’t spend much of my time worrying about how much money a show will make, so it is definitely an adjustment every year to book a show with the goal being to raise a ton of money. But that is absolutely what we are going for.  Toys for the kids, money for the shelter and hopefully we’ll get people talking about what they can do to help,” he says.

Do You Need to Rediscover the Joy of Giving?

The holidays can be a hectic mess full of stress and drama. A lot of people just try to make it through to the New Year without losing their minds.

We worry about keeping all the family gift-giving fair and even. We worry about what our mother-in-law will think of the dish we’re bringing to the party. We worry about whether or not the boss will hand out any bonuses this year. We worry about getting a bunch of junk that we’ll just have to return the week after the holidays are over.

Too many of us fail to actually enjoy Christmas anymore.

It’s easy to forget that some families have much bigger things to worry about. And it’s even easier to forget the real way to get that feeling of joy and fulfillment we’re missing.

When you give selflessly to others, without expecting something in return, that’s when you’ll feel something different. It’s a good feeling. It’s the reason why Christopher Gold and the other musicians involved give 100% of the money they raise to Harbor House.

Buy a ticket and bring a toy to the Dirty Rotten Toy Drive – you’ll get to eat great pizza, hear amazing music, and maybe even win one of the many cool raffle prizes. But what you’ll really get out of this is the satisfaction of knowing that you helped make the Christmas season a little brighter for people you don’t even know. They’ll never be able to thank you. The child won’t even know the toy was a donation. But you’re still the one coming out on top in this gift exchange.

Maybe you won’t participate in this particular event. But there are people who need help and worthy causes that could use your support all around us. Do yourself a favor, make some small sacrifices and allow yourself to feel some true Christmas spirit.

Gold says he hopes to continue the Dirty Rotten Toy Drive for years to come.

“As for why I keep doing it, I just can’t imagine not doing it at this point,” he says. “The goal I think is to get to a point where it has happened for so many years that I may be able to pass the torch to somebody, but for now and the near future I’m happy to do it. It’s not always easy and it takes a lot of work, but it seems that each year more and more people are willing to lend a hand.”

Here’s how you can be one of those people…

Event Details:

  • What: 4th Annual Dirty Rotten Toy Drive
  • Where: Cranky Pat’s in Neenah
  • When: Saturday, December 13th 8 pm
  • Tickets: $5 in advance at Cranky Pat’s or the Appleton Exclusive Company
  • More Info: Join the Event on Facebook and find out more
  • Visit the Harbor House website to learn about this non-profit

More About the Music:

Featured Image Photo Credit: Aaron Jankowski – Freelance Photographer

Watch a Live Christopher Gold Performance from 2013

Preview a Song from RedHawks

Preview a Song from Joseph Huber

Preview a Song from Mark Steven Hillstrom

Hemingway Alaska by Mark Steven Hillstrom on Grooveshark

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