Toy Party tonight

A child’s delight for gifts is synonymous with the holiday season, and the cover for one of the biggest parties of the year is just one unwrapped toy.

After almost a decade, Toy Party has established itself as the largest event on Atlanta’s LGBT holiday calendar. Last year 4,000 attendees donated 6,000 toys. This year organizers expect attendance to surge by up to 1,000.

“This is our ninth year and it’s become an institution for the holiday season,” says Chris Bess, president of For the Kid in All of Us, the nonprofit that puts on Toy Party.

The toys and gift cards the party raises are split among 23 agencies that work with children across the Atlanta area. This year’s beneficiaries include schools, family support agencies and organizations like CHRIS Kids, which provides a spectrum of services for children and young adults.

Unlike other big parties that rely on live entertainment or outrageous decor to make a splash, the donated gifts have always been the main attraction of the Toy Party.

“We’ve always picked a theme and decorate but the main attraction is seeing the pile of toys build up during the night,” Bess says.

An unwrapped gift of $25 or more will get attendees in the door for the evening and shopping for the donation is often part of the appeal.

“I think another part of it is being able to go back and buy the toys. A lot of us don’t have traditional families, or might be estranged from our family, and this gives the chance to give to children in our community,” he says.

While there is a requirement to how much the gifts must cost, there’s no ceiling on how much someone can spend.

“They can bring as much as they want, but we do ask that that it’s unwrapped to make it easier to sort. We’ll take anything so long as it fits that parameter… sometimes we’ll get items that far exceed that limit. We do have people who give iPads or bikes… if it’s something that’s huge and extravagant like that, we’ll take that as well,” Bess says.

This year’s theme is “Winter Wonderland,” and organizers plan to mix a few new elements into the standard themes. Toy Party will return to Americasmart with its soaring atrium and out lesbian DJ Vicki Powell will once again provide music.

“We have a lot of things that have worked well for us in the past,” Bess says.

Toy Party will branch out with live entertainment for the first time, featuring The Chocolettes, an African-American dance troop modeled after the Rockettes.

“We’ve never had live entertainment at the event before — we’ve always been afraid because of the size of the venue and the size of the crowd that it would be lost — but we’re going to try and do it up front and try to draw people’s attention to that,” Bess says.

A VIP ticket, which starts at $250, will also get more access to this year’s party. Organizers have added a second VIP area and, as in previous years, will have an open bar.

“We wanted to add a second VIP area on the ground floor because some people felt like they weren’t part of the main party,” Bess notes.