By Adam Smith
For 64 years, the U.S. Marine Corps has ensured that underprivileged children across the country have a merry Christmas.
The same is true for children across North-Central Alabama as Toys for Tots efforts in Limestone and surrounding counties ramped up last week. Volunteers worked in a warehouse in southern Limestone, bagging up toys for distribution this week.
In Limestone, about 515 children were registered to receive toys this year. Kaye Young McFarlen, director of the local United Way, said that number represents a drop from previous years.
“I don’t really have a feel (for why there were fewer families),” McFarlen said. “I don’t think the economy is significantly better, but with some families, things have gotten better for them.”
She said local churches are helping other families in the area because they needed clothing and basic essentials, and not just toys.
While the number of children to be served in Limestone was lower this year, that’s not the case in other area counties. Marshall County, for instance, has about 2,400 children who will be served by the initiative.
The growing need across the 13 counties in Master Sgt. Keith Langford’s coverage area was surprising to him, but he’s also been surprised by the outpouring of generosity. This is Langford’s first year as area coordinator for the toy drive, but he said operations have been relatively smooth.
“It’s been very time consuming, but I also understand the importance of networking,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of wonderful people through (Toys for Tots).”
Efforts in North Alabama were helped by WZYP’s Bikes or Bust campaign, which brought in 1,752 bikes over the four-day event. Langford said not every child will receive a bike, but they will be given out per family as supplies last.
About 100 of those bikes will be received by Limestone County children, in addition to bags of toys. Each bag contains about seven toys.
Toys for Tots put out about 800 collection sites in the 13 counties. For those who don’t want to drop off a toy, Langford said the organization would also accept monetary donations. However, monetary donations go to the Toys for Tots foundation, whereas donated toys stay in the counties where they are dropped off.
“Getting the toys saves me a step, but a lot of people are busy and don’t like to take the time (to buy a toy),” he said. “But with the bin in front of Toys R Us, I’m emptying that every week.”
There are no more scheduled sign-up events in Limestone County for Toys for Tots. However, McFarlen speculated there might be some families who have waited until the last minute to make preparations for Christmas.
Those who missed their window of opportunity will have one last chance to sign up, however, on Dec. 18 in Huntsville. Langford said it would be the last and only day to register. Sign-up times will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will be held at 9034 South Memorial Parkway in Huntsville, next to Goody’s.
“I get 40 to 60 phone calls per day from people who have missed registration,” Langford said.
Family members should provide the necessary information, including a valid ID, proof of residency, proof of income, a birth certificate for each child and a Social Security card for each child. Verifications will be conducted that day, and approved families will leave with their toys.
For more information on the Toys for Tots drive and how to donate, visit www.toysfortots.org.
Help from Carpenter
Local Toys for Tots staging efforts were aided this year by Carpenter Technology Corporation, which provided warehouse space for individual volunteers and those with the United Way, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs to pack toys.
“That’s been a great relationship,” McFarlen said of Carpenter. “They won’t be just providing quality jobs, but they’ll be great corporate citizens.”