Toys for Tots hoping for Christmas miracle
Toy boxes are running empty at Toys for Tots, as economic woes lead to fewer donations — and greater demand.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The economic grinch is putting a pinch on Toys for Tots.
Donations to the venerable program, which distributes Christmas toys to children in need, are about one-tenth of what they normally are in early December.
"This is the worst season we've had," Marine Sgt. Christopher Blas said Saturday, standing in a chilly South Seattle warehouse stacked with mostly-empty wooden crates. Donations are so slow the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve unit that has operated the program for more than 20 years was forced to postpone toy distributions planned for this weekend.
"Normally, these would be stuffed to the brim, with toys falling out, " Blas said, gesturing toward a row of boxes half-filled with Batman action figures, Dora the Explorer gear and other playthings sorted by the age and gender of children they are intended for.
Cash donations to the program stand at about $3,000, compared with the normal season total of $100,000. And the toys that are coming in include fewer pricey items such as remote-controlled cars. "We haven't received a single bike this year," said Staff Sgt. Robert Noyes.
The program has collected about 5,000 toys so far, compared with 50,000 by this time during most years. The goal is to give away more than 200,000 toys.
"We're really seeing effects of the recession scare," Noyes said. At the same time, demand for toys is up as more people in the region face unemployment.
Yesler Community Center in Seattle had requested 500 toys to give away at its annual holiday party, said center coordinator Ian Hallock. "The folks at Toys for Tots let me know it's going to be a very reduced number of toys this year," he said. "We're hoping for maybe 100."
New Beginnings Alofa Tunoa Ministries, a Samoan community church in Kent, doesn't know if it will receive any toys, said assistant minister April Mulipola. "We are hoping they get some more in."
For the first time, the program is offering toys directly to families this year. More than 500 requests have flooded in, overwhelming an online-application system.
"We've had to ask individual families to wait until the last week, and just hope we have toys left," Noyes said.
Toys flow into the program through drop-off boxes at retail stores and businesses and from community toy drives across the Puget Sound region. Most of the toys are distributed to nonprofit groups, churches and social-service agencies, which give them to families.
Blas says he's hopeful donations will increase over the coming weeks. Toys will be collected at today's Seahawks game, at area Wal-Mart stores and dozens of other locations.
A complete list of drop-off sites is at www.toys4tots.org/Donations.html.
"We're definitely going to get toys out to kids," Blas said. "But instead of each kid getting two or three toys, this year, they may only get one."
Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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