WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The violent death of his brother more than 20 years ago continues to reverberate through the life of Ben Piggott, but in a way that promises hope rather than despair.
Piggott, in anguish over the shooting death of his younger brother, Kermit Bruce Piggott, decided years ago that instead of wanting revenge he would try to do something to make his community a better place — and a less violent one. He began rounding up “peace toys” to give away to children at Christmas.
From a modest start, Piggott’s effort has grown to the point that for the second straight year it will be held in the Joel Coliseum Annex rather than at the Russell Community Center on Carver School Road where he works.
Piggott’s 21st annual Peace Toys for War Toys Exchange will be held Friday, Dec. 20. The doors open at 5:30 p.m. and registration ends at 6:45 p.m.
The idea is for kids to exchange violent toys — guns or violent video games — for computers, bicycles, dolls and other peaceful toys.
Last year, Piggott said, about 700 children were involved. Piggott said he believes the number could reach 1,000 this year. Although he has only a small pile of toys now, by the time the event takes place a room at Russell Community Center will be packed with donated items.
Piggott said his brother and a friend were arguing in 1991 when the friend shot his brother. Ben Piggott, who was in his early 30s, had just gotten a job as recreation director at Sims Recreation Center.
Healing was hard, Piggott said.
“I was angry,” he said.
But a man he met told him that he should put everything in God’s hands and that if he did, “I would see things that I never had seen before.”
Piggott went through a program that helps survivors of violence deal with their losses. It helped spark an idea that turned into Peace Toys for War Toys. He thought about how his brother and his friend had never meant for the argument to come to such a tragic end.
The idea of swapping war toys for peaceful toys caught on, Piggott said.
“We must teach the children about control instead of going off on your emotions and acting on that,” Piggott said. “Instead of fighting, turn to love to solve the problem.”
Piggott’s event started out at Sims Neighborhood Center and moved to Russell Community Center when Piggott did. But it outgrew the recreation center last year and moved to the Annex.
People planning to attend the event are asked to bring some nonperishable food, which will be donated to AIDS Care Service. The Winston-Salem alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority is taking charge of that.
“What we are seeking to do is assist those who are most affected with HIV and AIDS, and we understand there is a great need for food,” Lisa Smith, with the sorority’s alumnae chapter, said. “We supported AIDS Care last year and hope to double that this year.”
Piggott said it is important for those who are receiving help to also give it.
“We want the people who are receiving to also be donators,” he said.
Piggott said it takes about 60 volunteers to put on the toy exchange. He takes new and lightly used toys.
“We want basketballs, footballs, dolls and educational videos,” Piggott said, outlining some of the more popular items.
Above all, he needs bikes and mininotebook computers to give away, Piggott said.
“When they get a computer they will be jumping up and shouting,” Piggott said.
By Wesley Young/Winston-Salem Journal