With Toys for Tots, you can bring holiday joy to children in need

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Calling All Elves: Toys for Tots volunteers are once again collecting new, unwrapped toys and monetary donations to bring hope and joy to thousands of New Jersey children this holiday season.

Managed by the United States Marine Corps and volunteers each year, Toys for Tots collects and distributes the toys as Christmas gifts to children in need. The toy drive began in 1947 when a Marine Major and his wife wanted to donate a handmade Raggedy Ann doll to a child in need, but couldn’t find a charity. charity. From this act of kindness was born one of the best known charities in the country.

As the holidays quickly approach, coordinators are already scrambling to collect toys from thousands of New Jersey toy drop-off sites. Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

To date, the program and foundation have collected and distributed more than 604 million toys to children in the communities where Toys for Tots campaigns are run – across the United States and in Puerto Rico, Guam and the United States Virgin Islands. .

The program received support from First Lady Michelle Obama, who placed the first White House collection box in 2009 and participated in a Toys for Tots event at a military base in 2011.

Individual campaigns decide how to provide the toys to families who need help with Christmas gifts for their underage children.

Volunteers Gwen Utter and Tom DiBattista sort donated toys at Urie’s Waterfront restaurant in Wildwood, the Cape May County distribution location. Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

Kevin Mallon, a former Marine who coordinates the Cape May County program, said volunteers will collect all collected toys and take them to a Wildwood restaurant that will be laid out like a department store, with toys grouped by age range and category. The week before Christmas Eve, parents and guardians can drop in and complete a one-page application with information about their child (ren). “A volunteer will then accompany them as they walk around the ‘store’ and select the items their child would like the most,” Mallon said.

In Gloucester County, the items are collected and filed in a county building that has been donated to the campaign to house toy donations, said Kevin Baisch, a sailor and volunteer who coordinates the Gloucester campaign alongside his wife, Shanin. Families complete the applications online, indicating the name, gender and age of their child. Shanin then hand-selects the following items for each child: two to three toys, a game, a puzzle, a craft activity, and a book. The bundled items then go to community partners who put the toys in the hands of happy children.

Gloucester County’s Toys for Tots effort was able to help 34,117 children in 2020. “Our goal this year is over 40,000,” Baisch said. “We are very lucky, the people of this county are extremely generous.” Even with over 300 sites with collection boxes, he said there was always room for more. That’s why he and other Marines also volunteer their time on weekends, collecting toy donations outside of Walmart and Big Lots. “There are never enough toys… every toy makes a difference.”

Home Depot is a major contributor to the Toys for Tots campaign in Gloucester County. Photo courtesy of Gloucester County Toys for Tots

Can I apply to become a Toy Drop store?

Yes! There is still time to host a Toys for Tots collector’s box at your home, office, or other organization this holiday season. Interested businesses and organizations should contact their campaign – go to toysfortots.org and click “Find your local campaign”. Contact the coordinator and ask them to bring a collection box to your location.

When will the donations be collected?

As the holidays quickly approach, coordinators are already scrambling to collect toys from thousands of New Jersey toy drop-off sites. They usually collect donated items no later than mid-December to give volunteers time to sort out the toys and deliver them to the grateful and happy children in time for Christmas.

Although the toy collection season officially runs from October 1 to December, many campaigns can start collecting items as early as September. They can continue to accept toy donations even after the holidays to make sure there are enough toys for next year. “We get toys all year round, and the toys can be kept for the following year – nothing goes to waste,” Mallon said.

Toys for Tots accepts gifts intended for children, from infants to teens. Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

How to donate a toy?

Bring new, unwrapped toys to a nearby Toy Drop store or donate a toy online by clicking here.

Which items are most needed?

Toys for Tots may suggest a target demographic of preschool and kindergarten children, but the organization serves children from infants to teens. Often, we do not take sufficient account of the two extremes: babies and adolescents. If you’re planning on shopping for these groups, remember that the items don’t have to be toys (think: a hair dryer for a tween or a tumbler for a toddler). Keep in mind that Toys for Tots does not accept food, clothing, or gift cards.

I cannot access a Toy Drop Box. How do I show my support?

There are several ways to support the efforts of Toys for Tots with a financial contribution. To support your local, go to toysfortots.org, find your county and click on the “Donate Locally” tab. There is also an option to donate to the entire national campaign. All of these links are available online. Additionally, each campaign has an individual QR code that is displayed at each drop box location. Scan the code with your smartphone camera to donate to your community’s Toys for Tots effort.

Kerry Serzan is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Star-Ledger. A new life Jersey, she lives “down the Shore” in Sea Girt with her husband Joe and their children.


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