December 20, 2010


Toys for Tots fills growing need

1,034 children receive gifts this season, a 30 percent increase from ’08

ToysJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Bruce Guyles of the Marine Corp.’s Toys for Tots Foundation helps to distribute gifts to families Saturday in Cortland.

Staff Reporter

Amanda Barber has five children with a collective Christmas list that is longer than she can afford.
Every Christmas is a challenge for Barber. Last year, her daughter Kirsten wanted a Moxie Doll, a modern Barbie, but the price tag was too steep. Paying for Christmas gifts for all her children strains her finances.
"It's hard around Christmas time, because you want to get your kids everything, but it also costs a lot of money," she said.
For the last two years, Barber has participated in Marine Corp. League's Toys for Tots, a program that buys gifts for children. Program volunteers spend months at the end of year buying gifts for children, ranging from newborns to 18-year-olds.
The organization distributed the gifts on Saturday at the warehouse on the corner of Main and Huntington streets. About 10 Toys for Tots volunteers sat behind tables and distributed bags and bags of gifts ready to be opened Christmas morning. This year, the organization registered 1,034 children, up from 958 last year and 798 two years ago.
The children registered in the program receive a small, medium and large gift.
"There's a lot of work that goes into it," said Norm Stitzel, the program's local coordinator. "We can't be with the kids on Christmas, but we know it makes a difference. For some kids this is all they get. For others it supplements the gifts their parents can afford. It's just a great thing to do."
Stitzel worked at a boy's juvenile facility and said he saw the destroyed lives that came through there. Working at Toys for Tots is his way of helping children and Òmaking their day a little brighter."
Stitzel said demand for gifts is up, but donations were down by about 25 percent. He said the organization still had enough gifts for all the children.
"We can see the economy by the demand for gifts coming in," said Stitzel, who has been involved with the program for five years. "The need just keeps going up."
The program volunteers make twice-weekly shopping trips to local stores, buying dartboards, dolls, MP3 players, footballs, basketballs and other toys for children. Every year, the group wraps the gifts and distributes them the week before Christmas.
"Some parents have a hard time taking the gifts," Stitzel said.
"But I always say to them that it's about the kids and making sure they get a few extra toys in their hands. That's everything."
"I hope I can always do this," he added.
The Toys for Tots staff on hand Saturday said the program is as rewarding as it is necessary during these tight economic times.
"I love it," said Michelle Mullen, who has been involved with Toys for Tots for 10 years. "This is just a really worthwhile organization. You really see the spirit of Christmas in what happens here. It's what it's all about."
The goal of Toys for Tots is to help less fortunate children throughout the United States experience the joy of Christmas. The national program, which was founded in 1947 by a group of Marine reservists, relies on contributions from sponsors.
Stitzel said the local Toys for Tots has a network of about 40 businesses and organizations that contribute to the program, including several veterans groups, Walmart and Napa Auto Parts.
"It makes me feel tremendous and grateful," said Kevin Grewe, the co-cordinator for the event. "There's so many families that struggle to have food to eat every night, most of them are looking for toys and they don't have it. It's a tremendous feeling to give people this. Christmas is about kids and making sure they have that joy, and to give them that, even a little bit, is great."
Last year, Barber, the mother of five — not to be confused with the Amanda Barber who is county manager of the Soil and Water Conservation District — watched as her daughter opened one of her Toys for Tots gifts and found the doll she wanted smiling at her. She beamed.
"It made her Christmas," Barber said. "We had no idea. It was just a great coincidence. It made her really happy."


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