2017-12-24 / Insight

Toys for Tots wraps up another season

810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

Brooklyn West, a student at Chatfield School (left) and Melinda Amabile, a Burnside Township resident, organize toys Thursday for Lapeer County Area Toys for Tots. More than 400 children will receive presents this Christmas because of the program. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich Brooklyn West, a student at Chatfield School (left) and Melinda Amabile, a Burnside Township resident, organize toys Thursday for Lapeer County Area Toys for Tots. More than 400 children will receive presents this Christmas because of the program. Photo by Andrew Dietderich LAPEER — When Fred Green takes his first sip of coffee on Dec. 25, he’ll have a certain sense of pride and satisfaction, knowing he was part of a team that delivered Christmas joy to more than 400 children throughout the region.

Green is coordinator of Lapeer County Area Toys for Tots —an organization that just wrapped another successful drive to provide Christmas gifts for children who might not otherwise receive them due to family hardships.

What those hardships might be, doesn’t really matter, Green said, because that’s not what’s most important.

“There are kids who are going to be filled with joy that morning… because of all the effort we put forth,” Green said. “Who’s getting the credit? The parents. Santa Claus. It doesn’t matter…we did our part and we did it the best we could.”

Green clarifies what he means by “we.”

He’s talking about anyone who touched Toys for Tots during its 2017 campaign, from the volunteers who help run it to anyone who bought a new toy to donate in one of the organizations several dozen boxes throughout the region.

He’s talking those who many financial donations.

Green is even talking about the owner of the building at 1330 Imlay City Road in Lapeer who donated the space to allow the organization to operate for this season.

“None of that happened? None of this would have happened,” said Jim Wurn, who also helps run the program.

The peak of the Toys for Tots year, of course, is the few weeks leading up to Christmas.

Whereas many are fortunate enough to shop with the point-and-click of a mouse, or head from store-to-store and not think twice about plunking down forms of plastic payment, not everyone is.

Green says it’s the kind of disparity that’s been around for a long time, too, which is why Toys for Tots has existed since 1947.

A U.S. Marine Corps Reserve program, according to its website, the goal of Toys for Tots “is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.”

Lapeer County Area’s Toys for Tots drive is one of more than 700 held in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Last year Toys for Tots distributed 18 million toys to 7 million children nationwide. (Green said it was too early to put a number on how many donations were received locally this year.)

“We recognize there are issues in life that cause problems,” Green told The County Press. “You may have done everything right and then all of the sudden your car breaks. What’s going to be more important? Families have to make choices. This is one way we can step in and help and say ‘Yes, kids can still have a good Christmas.’”

Lapeer County Area Toys for Tots services Lapeer, Tuscola, and Sanilac counties.

Parents can stop by and pick out gifts for their children (up to age 16) in the weeks leading up to Christmas. (The last day was Thursday, Dec. 21).

“I’ll tell you what, I had to use the service,” said Melinda Amabile, a Burnside Township resident who was serving as a volunteer for the organization on Thursday, Dec. 21. “And that’s how I started working here…because I felt bad taking and not giving back.”

“If it wasn’t for this service — I have five girls — my kids wouldn’t have gotten a bunch of stuff like this,” she added. “So it’s saved my family. It’s been a total blessing.”

Green said the organization usually receives ample supply of traditional toys — dolls and baby dolls for girls, cars and trucks for boys.

However, there are some areas where donations can fall short, Wurn said.

For example, items for boys between the ages of 11 and 15 often are hard to come by.

Further, Green said, craft kits that many girls like can sometimes be available only in limited supply.

To meet needs, Green said the organization holds fund raising events throughout the year that essentially provide Toys for Tots the ability to purchase such items at a wholesale rate.

Such events aren’t the only gears in motion at Toys for Tots during other parts of the year.

For example, after Jan. 1, the process begins of cataloging remaining inventory.

Since the Lapeer County Area Toys for Tots doesn’t have a permanent location, those who run the program also have to move everything to another location. The items will be used at the beginning of the 2018 season.

Before the end of winter, Green said, he is already working with companies like Walmart to secure dates to place Toys for Tots for the following holiday season. For 2017, the organization had 24 drop-off locations in Lapeer alone, from places like ELGA Credit Union and Werner’s Hallmark to The County Press offices and Lapeer Industries. Other drop-off locations were in Almont, Deerfield, Imlay City, Metamora and North Branch.

Green said the fact that Toys for Tots receives such support tells him the program will be around for many years to come.

“If the community does not support it, there’s no sense in running the program,” Green said.

More information about the organization, including ways to donate and request toys, can be found at tinyurl.com/ lapeertoys.

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