December 19, 2011


Toys for Tots helps families

ToysBob Ellis/staff photographer
Kalika Blake-Huffman, 7, of Cortland awaits a present from Santa at the Marine Corps League’s Toys for Tots program Saturday.

Staff Reporter

Norm Stitzel watched the lines of people waiting for donated toys Saturday afternoon and said it was a sign that America’s economy is not recovering very fast.
Stitzel is co-coordinator of the Marine Corps League Toys for Tots program in Cortland County, which gives away toys for children whose parents request it due to financial hardship. This year, the program gave away toys for about 1,350 children, about 200 more children than last year — three toys for each child, in 473 bags.
“This shows our times, and it will grow next year since the economy isn’t getting any better,” Stitzel said. “Toys are expensive. For three kids, you could spend $400 to $600 easily. For some families, these toys will be added on to what the kids get, but for others these will be the only toys they get.”
The program was conducted for the second year at the former Crescent Corset Co. factory building on south Main Street, after previously being held at the County Office Building. The Marine Corps Reserve had a spacious former factory floor where volunteers giftwrapped the toys and placed them in large plastic bags, then kept them until people arrived Saturday to claim them.
People could call volunteers between Nov. 9 and Dec. 9 to request toys, providing the age and sex of their children. Each child received three toys: small, medium and large.
The funds for toys came from community groups, Pall Trinity and other sponsors. About 70 volunteers helped, including people from Faith Baptist Church, Cortland Regional Medical Center and Marathon High School.
People began lining up at noon, although the bags were not available until 2 p.m. About 300 people formed four lines once the bags were available, telling their order number to volunteers behind a line of tables..
Santa Claus greeted children, and five people from Faith Baptist Church sang holiday songs, dressed in Dickens-era clothing.
“This is a very good program,” said Tammy Glover of Cortland, carrying a bag with gifts for five children, ages 5 to 17. She said took part in the program two years ago, then skipped a year because she had more money, then took part again because she is on disability.
Homer resident Cindy Hemingway picked up gifts for two boys, ages 8 and 12. She said this was her second year, since she was laid off a year ago from her job as an office manager.
Crysta Brown of Cortland said she had never taken part in Toys for Tots before, but she and her husband, Michael, are moving to California with their three children, ages 2, 4 and 5, “and we need to save every dollar we can.”
Stitzel and co-coordinator Kevin Grewe, both retired Marine Corps officers, helped with problems such as people who had not received the toys they asked for. People wished them a happy holiday as they headed out the door with their bags.
“Some years, we were so tight we thought we’d have to go down to two toys per child, but Cortland County is very generous and always comes through,” Stitzel said.
One man, who did not want to provide his name, had toys for children aged 3, 6 and 7, using Toys for Tots because “I just got separated and I can’t afford Christmas.”
Behind the tables, one of the volunteers bringing bags of toys to people was current Marine Cpl. Jason Guyles, 23, back in Cortland after a seven-month stint in Afghanistan.
“I’m running around, enjoying every second of it,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling. I’ve wrapped presents before (for Toys for Tots) but I’ve never been here for this part.”
Stationed at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, Guyles serves in an aviation ordinance unit. He has been in the Marines for 3 1/2 years.
Guyles helped Saturday alongside his father, Bruce, a retired Marine. He said he would be returning to Camp Pendleton on Tuesday and his family would go with him, so they could be together for Christmas.


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