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Public responds to call for Toys for Tots donations

Susan Bailey hates the thought of some children not getting gifts on Christmas.

So when the 70-year-old grandmother of five learned that Toys for Tots hasn't collected enough toys to meet the needs, she decided to write a check for $200.

"I know the heartache of Christmas and how hard it can be,'' said Bailey, of Tampa, who raised three kids as a single mom.

Bailey is among many people who donated to the U.S. Marine Corps. Toys for Tots after reading about the charity's unprecedented shortfall in Thursday's Tampa Bay Times. The charity is tens of thousands of toys short in the Tampa Bay area, including 100,000 alone in Hillsborough County.

Organizers have blamed the deficit on a change of policy by the U.S. Postal Service, which partners with the charity to pick up toy donations left at people's mailboxes. In past years, the post office delivered a notice of the toy drive for free but this year said it could no longer provide the service, given its dire financial situation.

Without the flier, most people didn't know about the event and, as a result, few toys were collected.

Michelle McRae, manager of the Toys for Tots warehouse in Tampa, said several people who heard about the shortfall stopped by Thursday to drop off toys. Ed Zaleski, assistant coordinator for the Tots for Tots in Hillsborough, fielded calls from the media.

The news prompted the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a longtime supporter of Toys for Tots, to make a final push for donations. Through Friday, it will match any toy brought to the aquarium and give $3 off general admission.

In St. Petersburg, Jenna Griffin and Kelly Kalmbach, co-owners of Creative Touches Hair Salon, will give away free haircuts on Sunday to anyone who brings a new, unwrapped gift for Toys for Tots.

"We hate to think they don't have enough toys,'' Griffin said. "We're ready to work.''

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the salon, 8401 Ninth St. N.

Anyone who brings a toy but doesn't need a haircut, will get a voucher for a future cut. The salon will also treat customers to lunch.

In Ybor City, Victims of Circumstance, a punk-ska band from Clearwater, will perform a Toys for Tots/Feed the Homeless benefit show at 9 p.m. Tuesday at Barbarella, 1920 E Seventh Ave. Bring a toy or nonperishable food item for free admission.

Other charities are similarly seeking help. Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa faces a shortfall of more than 100,000 pounds of food and $140,000 in donations. It's especially in need of turkeys, cereal, canned fruit and toys for teenagers and infants.

The charity will start distributing food and toys today to 15,000 area families. It will need 60,000 toys over the next 12 days and, so far, has 13,000, said president Tim Marks. People can drop off donations and cash gifts at Metropolitan's holiday tent, 400 W Palm Ave., or give online at metromin.org.

How to help

Toys for Tots is collecting new, unwrapped toys at Publix stores and other retailers. Ask for the Toys for Tots donation bin. Its warehouse at 4479 W Gandy Blvd. in Tampa is accepting donations through Dec. 21. Its warehouse at 10900 U.S. 19 N in Clearwater is taking donations through Sunday. Call (703) 357-8581 in Hillsborough or (727) 678-3060 in Pinellas. To make a cash donation, go to totsfortots.org and search for your local Toys for Tots campaign.

Public responds to call for Toys for Tots donations 12/13/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 13, 2012 8:37pm]

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