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Toys for Tots, other Pasco charities, short on holiday donations

John Durkin is worried.

The retired Marine reservist who oversees West Pasco's Toys for Tots program expects about 900 parents to show up Saturday to get gifts for 2,000 kids.

He likes to be able to give each child two toys, plus stocking stuffers and a plush animal for parents who request it. Do the math and that equals at least 4,000 toys.

"I don't think we have 4,000 toys right now," he said. The nonprofit operation used to get so many stuffed animals that coordinators put no limit on the number parents could take home. This year, each family gets only one. At the first of the two toy giveaways last week, the agency squeaked by, but he is nervous about the final distribution set for Saturday.

Durkin isn't the only one feeling the pinch of a Grinch-like economy. At Gulf View Square mall, 68 paper angels, each bearing the name and wish list of a needy child, remained on the Salvation Army tree. And in Zephyrhills, a dog lover who last year collected 1,500 pounds of animal food for needy pet owners is seeing far fewer contributions.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," said Bob Loring, a retired member of the Marine Reserve who oversees Toys for Tots in East Pasco. The agency will make one big toy distribution Saturday to 2,000 families, including 4,500 children. "My biggest nightmare is for families to show up and to not have enough toys."

Those who oversee the major holiday charities place the blame squarely on the county's stubbornly high unemployment rate along with foreclosures, falling home values, rising insurance costs and general fiscal anxiety.

"Members of the community have lost jobs, are between jobs, have taken pay cuts, are unsure about the future or are anticipating a tax hike," Durkin said. "We are paying the price."

Though they're grateful for all donations, Durkin and Loring say they've seen fewer donations of pricier "hot toys" such as racing sets or electronic items.

"They're what I call 'premium toys', " Durkin said. "I have plenty of Barbie dolls."

Said Loring: "They're more basic toys. People have less money, but they still want to be part of our program."

Durkin said his goal is to give each child one premium toy, but they may not be able to do that this year.

Joining Hands Community Mission is one of the few agencies that provide gifts for teens in addition to younger children in families who are either homeless or doubled up with friends or relatives. The agency, a partner of Metropolitan Ministries, also provides a food basket. Donations stay in Pasco County. Grocery donations are fairly steady, but toys are in shorter supply.

"We went out and bought $1,000 of toys," said the Rev. Dan Campbell, the agency's chief executive officer. "We still need toys."

Teens are tougher to help as most donors buy for younger kids.

The suggested list for ages 12 to 17 includes sports equipment, cosmetics, prepaid cell phones, journals, board games such as Monopoly or Scrabble, or hand-held electronic games.

Salvation Army Center of Hope manager Jeanne Coulter said in addition to having its largest number of unadopted kids this close to Christmas, the agency is also short on food. It has 375 holiday food boxes to fill and is short 165 turkeys and hams.

"Donations are just extremely down," Coulter said. "But I can still make a wish."

Children aren't the only ones getting less this year.

Ada Marr, who owns the Printing Zone, donated 1,500 pounds of pet food last year to animal welfare agencies through her Food for Furry Friends program.

She'll consider herself lucky this year if she collects a third of that.

"It's so tough right now," she said. "I thought by now things would be getting better."

>>Fast facts

It's not too late to help

Agencies are still taking donations of toys and pet food. Here's how you can donate.

West Pasco

Toys For Tots

Drop off toys at the Marine Corps League Detachment, 7241 Baillie Drive, New Port Richey. (844) 848-0011. Distribution is Saturday.

East Pasco

Toys for Tots

Toys may be dropped off at Alice Hall, 38116 5th Ave., Zephyrhills; Land O'Lakes Community Center, 5401 U.S. 41; Pasco-Hernando Community College, 36727 Blanton Road in Dade City; Wesley Chapel Elementary School, 30243 Wells Road in Wesley Chapel. Distribution is Saturday.

Joining Hand Community Mission Inc.

Toy or cash donations may be made at the mission at 3214 U.S. 19 in Holiday. Visit www.joininghandsmission.org to donate via credit card. Phone is (727) 937-3268.

Food for Furry Friends

Pet food may be dropped off at the following sites:

Printing Zone, 6308 Gall Blvd., Zephyrhills, (813) 780-7545

Lykins Pharmacy, 38101 5th Ave., Zephyrhills, (813)782-0416

Blake Veterinary, 37541 Clinton Ave., Dade City (352) 518-1112

Tractor Supply, 7431 Gall Blvd., Zephyrhills (813) 782-6500

Salvation

Army Angel Tree

Angels are on a tree near JCPenney inside Gulf View Square mall on U.S. 19. Listed on each angel are the child's age, sizes, needs and wants. The program ends Sunday. For information, call Jeanne Coulter at (727) 847-6321, ext. 101.

Toys for Tots, other Pasco charities, short on holiday donations 12/15/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 9:01pm]
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