Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

Shorter holiday shopping season, increasing need, hurting some holiday toy drives

HOLIDAY — Donations so far for boys ages 4 to 9: one medical kit, one Tonka helicopter, one Tonka police car, one Play-Doh set. For girls: one cake pop kit, one art kit, one manicure set, one block set.

"That won't last 10 minutes," said the Rev. Dan Campbell, director of Metropolitan Ministries in Pasco, as he strolled past bare shelves Wednesday. Volunteers have signed up about 20 percent more needy families than last year, yet donations are down by about 10 percent.

"We're desperate for toys," Campbell said, noting that the first of two distributions takes place Saturday.

The situation is better at the agency's headquarters in downtown Tampa and at charities in other parts of the Tampa Bay area. But the need is more dire in Pasco County.

"I think a lot of people who used to be donors now need help," said Judith Tilton, community services director for the United Way of Pasco. She said lower unemployment rates and a soaring stock market might mislead people to think everyone is better off. But many people are stuck in low-wage or part-time jobs. A shorter shopping season and warmer weather this year probably haven't helped either.

In Hillsborough, the outlook is a bit brighter.

"We're seeing things pick up a little bit this week, but last week we weren't where we wanted to be as far as toys go," said Gwen Harmon, spokeswoman for Hillsborough Metropolitan Ministries. She said the agency has reached out to civic groups and churches that have helped in the past.

"I think a lot of people think of us primarily as a place for food," she said. "But this time of year toy donations are just as critical, as there are 13,000 children we're trying to serve."

The angel trees for the Pasco County Foster/Adoptive Parent Association remain largely untouched, said Lynn Walton, a representative for the organization that assists foster families.

"This time last year the angels were mostly gone," she said.

The state does not give any extra money for holiday gifts.

The angel tags on the trees, which are placed at various businesses, list a child's clothing and shoe sizes as well as three wishes. Sponsors can fill whatever they are able to afford, Walton said.

A change in policy at the U.S. Postal Service hurt donations to Toys for Tots, operated by the Marine Corps Reserve. The group depends on letter carriers to pick up toys left at mailboxes. This year, the postal service refused to let carriers put fliers in mailboxes for free to remind residents of the Dec. 7 event.

"It's heartbreaking to tell you the truth," said Bob Loring, the coordinator for east Pasco. He said the agency has 50 large bags of toys, about half the number it usually collects by this time.

"We'll have to limit the amount of people we register," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, I can only sleep well if we take care of the people we've got registered."

Toys for Tots will hand out the toys on Dec. 21, along with socks and underwear provided by local Rotary clubs.

Pinellas Toys for Tots also was affected by the lack publicity, coordinator Ron Ashley said.

Still, he said, it's not too late to help. Volunteers will spend the rest of this week and next sorting toys for a Dec. 21 distribution.

Christian Isaly, Toys for Tots coordinator for west Pasco, said his area is down about 40 percent. Requests for help are up about 1,000 over last year.

Marion Kelley, chairman of Hernando County Toys For Tots program, said collection bins located throughout the county have been disappointingly empty. He worries that he won't have enough toys to distribute to the more than 2,000 kids on his organization's wish list.

"I guess people are taking care of themselves this year," Kelley said. "Things have picked up a little in the last few days, but I'm afraid we're going to run short, and that's something we've never done."

Staff writer Logan Neill contributed to this report.

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