Tats and Tots 

Enigma Tattoo pierces the holiday spirit.

click to enlarge Cameron McConnell, a body piercer at Enigma Tattoo, holds a stuffed animal donated as part of the shop's Tats for Toys program.
  • Cameron McConnell, a body piercer at Enigma Tattoo, holds a stuffed animal donated as part of the shop's Tats for Toys program.

Santa's beard might not be real, but his tattoos are.

Modeled after the well-known toy drive, Toys for Tots, Enigma Tattoo recently launched a similar program with a slightly unconventional twist: Customers who donate a toy worth $20 or more (with a receipt) to Enigma Studios on West Broad Street will receive a gift card worth $40 toward a tattoo or piercing. All of the toys will be donated to the Salvation Army for distribution.

Enigma's owner, Mel Diehl, figures the toy drive, Tats for Toys, will spread a little holiday spirit to his customers, who might not normally partake in sugarplums and chestnuts. It also helps the Salvation Army reach a different demographic.

“These drives are crucial to what we're trying to do,” says Salvation Army Central Virginia command spokesman Jeff Baldwin. Last year the Salvation Army Central Virginia Command distributed 66,987 toys to roughly 12,000 children, and serves 13 counties.

Baldwin says toy drives such as Enigma's offset needs left unfulfilled by the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program. If an Angel Tree child isn't sponsored, or their sponsor fails to donate, these toy drives fill the gap.

“Every child will get a toy in our system,” Baldwin says.

 “It's a great that people get a little something, and we get more out there in the community,” says Cameron McConnell, a body piercer who's worked at Enigma for seven years. So far he's pierced a set of earlobes and a nostril for the program. McConnell says many of Enigma's regular clients have come by to donate gifts. One regular, currently in the middle of having her back tattoos retouched, donated an entire video game controller set to the program but declined the gift certificates.

So far Enigma has collected more than 30 toys, and Diehl says the program is working well.

“It keeps the guys busy and it's for a good cause,” Diehl says. At the end of the drive, Enigma will hold a Christmas party to present the donations to the Salvation Army. The date has yet to be set, but Diehl says the party will be open to the public and feature a band.

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