A group of local tattoo artists spent their holiday season exchanging tattoos for toys to donate to children in need.

An employee of The Ink Elephant tattoo shop in McAllen started “Toys for Tatts” six years ago as a way to give back to his community. He said he was inspired to start a toy drive in 2005 after he was released from prison earlier than expected and was able to spend Christmas with his family.

“I felt that was a real gift society gave to me – a second chance,” he said.

He and his colleagues give free 3×3 tattoos during the Christmas season to those who donate a toy between $20 and $30.

“Around tattoos there’s always been some kind of stigma, but we want to demonstrate that we are part of the community,” he said.

This year, Toys for Tatts included more than just gifts. On Wednesday, the tattoo shop also invited the families for a Christmas dinner celebration, where they served turkey, mashed potatoes and ham to the parents and kids.

“We’re kind of short on funds this year,” said Kimberly White, a mother of five from La Feria. “I’m very grateful and appreciative that they helped us this year.”

Toys for Tatts said this was their most successful drive yet, and had so many donations that they’re now booked past their deadline.