Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
Melissa Johnson helps a woman pick out toys

Tornado survivor gives back at Toy Shop (video)

Added on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In May 2011, Melissa Johnson’s life was uprooted by a tornado that damaged or destroyed 3,700 properties in North Minneapolis, including her own. She was living in a rented home with her now-husband, Dwight, and their eight kids.

“I looked out and saw a huge tree coming down the street,” Johnson said in 2011. “The windows were busting out and the back door came flying open. I told everyone to get in the basement. Trees – big trees – started falling on the back of the house.”

Thankfully, the family survived. But their home, and most of their possessions, were lost.

In the days, weeks and months after the disaster, The Salvation Army served Johnson’s family and thousands of others in North Minneapolis by providing hot meals, groceries, hygiene products, clothing and furniture vouchers, gift cards, financial assistance, and more.

A mother picks out gifts for her kidsJohnson still has not forgotten about the help The Salvation Army gave her family. Her gratitude was on display Dec. 21 at The Salvation Army’s toy shop at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, where she volunteered to help parents pick out Christmas gifts for their children (pictured).

The team at was thrilled to bump into Johnson unexpectedly. We couldn’t help but ask if the disaster assistance she received in 2011 still affects her.

“Oh my gosh, yes,” Johnson said.

Melissa Johnson helps at Toy ShopToday, she and her family are living in a seven-bedroom St. Paul home given to them – yes, given – by a viewer of a 2011 WCCO-TV series about tornado-affected families served by The Salvation Army. She now works as a tax preparer for Jackson Hewitt and is one semester away from finishing her bachelor’s degree in family studies. Her husband has a full-time job in law enforcement.

“Everything is turning out perfect,” said Johnson, adding that she’s been volunteering at Salvation Army toy shops the past three years, and bell ringing every Christmas season since 2011.

Toy Shops and ripple effects

Johnson’s story provides a good example of how helping others can set off ripple effects of goodness that last a lifetime.

Right now The Salvation Army is trying to create similar waves at our toy shops in the Twin Cities, Greater Minnesota and North Dakota. These toy shops ensure thousands of low-income parents can give Christmas presents to their children.

A single mother named Joan pics out a present for her sonThat includes Joan (pictured), a single mother from St. Paul. She stopped by the toy shop in St. Paul to pick out gifts for her 1-year-old son. She was excited to find a stuffed Elmo doll, her son’s favorite.

“Knowing I can get help from people in the community, it does help a lot,” said Joan, 25, who attends Woodland Hills Church and is taking college classes for a degree in computer technology. “It’s people helping other people.”

Salvation Army toy shops last year distributed nearly 190,000 toys in Minnesota and North Dakota. Without these toy shops, thousands of children would receive little or nothing on Christmas morning.

“Our toy shops exist because of two generous groups of people – our donors, and our volunteers,” said Lt. Col. Robert Thomson, Salvation Army Commander of Minnesota and North Dakota. “We thank everybody who donated money, toys, or their time to make this year’s toy shops possible. We and the families we serve are incredibly grateful.”


Meet Jennifer, a mother thankful to receive gifts last week at our toy shop in Burnsville, Minn.:

Thank you for supporting The Salvation Army this Christmas. There is still time to donate or bell ring before the season ends. 

There is also time to take advantage of donations being doubled in select cities across Minnesota and North Dakota (learn more).