JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Joan Berry has lived with and will always live with the pain of losing her daughter, Johnia. Johnia was killed in 2004 by an intruder at her apartment after a night of wrapping Christmas gifts for kids.
To keep busy and continue honoring Johnia’s memory, Joan Berry started a toy drive that helps thousands of children in the region. She called it the “Johnia Berry Toy Drive.”
Berry works hard each year to provide toys for kids in need. In the 19 years of the toy drive, she said thousands of toys have been donated.
“It has grown tremendously,” she said. “We started out and it was very small. But I just can’t believe how much it has grown over the years. There’s mounds of toys. You know, there is a lot of volunteers behind this. I couldn’t do this by myself. We have so many volunteers, people collecting the toys, doing [that] the whole month that they’re being dropped off.”
The kids aren’t the only people who benefit. The hectic schedule helps Joan keep her mind busy, as well.
“I can tell you the holidays are very hard,” she said. “You know, if you’ve lost a loved one like we lost Johnia, it helps keep me busy. Staying busy is my thing. I need to be busy. I don’t have time, you know, for downtime. And it’s hard enough anyway, and I’ll always be sad, but keeping busy is my thing, is the thing that’s that’s worked best for me over the years.”
Berry said she will never heal from her daughter’s murder, but serving others helps her get through.
“This [toy drive] has been a tremendous help, not just to other people, but also for myself and my family,” she said. “So it’s wonderful to be able to turn such a tragic thing into something that Johnia would be proud of. And she had such a great love for children. So, yeah, there’s very little that you can do for Johnia at Christmas. So I feel like this is part of her Christmas.”
Over the years, Joan says she hasn’t felt like celebrating the holidays. But, the toy drive she started almost two decades ago provides a way to keep Johnia close during these times.
“And she I know she’s in heaven smiling down and saying, ‘Way to go. Keep it up’.”