Three hundred women packed into the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center in October with one goal in mind: fix the toys.
Pasco Toys for Tots, the local chapter of the Marine Corps Reserve-affiliated organization that offers toys to needy families for the holiday season, had just received a donation of 4,000 SpongeBob and Snoopy stuffed animals from Macy's.
But the toys had a small problem. They had the year "2014" stitched onto their feet. The women, members of the West Pasco Quilters' Guild, were tasked with removing the 4 and replacing it with a 6. They didn't want the kids to feel they were getting old toys.
It was one step of many to ready the organization, which has undergone significant changes this year, for Dec. 17, the first of its distribution days.
This year, Toys for Tots, which serves about 7,000 families per year in Pasco County and utilizes hundreds of volunteers, will operate as one organization in Pasco, rather than as separate east and west chapters. And with the consolidation, improvements have been made to the registration process. Parents who wish to receive toys can now call the United Way's 211 line to register, a process they will find more streamlined than in the past.
"The biggest thing that I see with consolidation is that we're trying to work smart," said Christian Isaly, 46, who oversees the countywide Toys for Tots operation. He previously had been the head of the West Pasco Toys for Tots chapter.
After last year's successful season, the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation, which raises money on behalf of the Toys for Tots program, ordered the two Pasco chapters to combine because there was an inequity in the number of toys each chapter was collecting. That allowed former East Pasco Toys for Tots coordinator Bob Loring, 72, to retire after 17 years of service, leaving room for Isaly to take over the entire county.
One of Isaly's priorities was to overhaul the registration process. In the past, families wishing to receive toys called schools, whose staffers filled out registration forms on paper.
"It was a nightmare," Isaly said. "They were getting swamped."
Then, on distribution day, families would wait in line for hours to pick the toys they wanted. Sometimes, families would go to multiple distribution centers to collect toys.
Now, families can register by calling 211, and the staff will assign a specific location and pickup time. The new online system, eliminates the opportunities for double dippers.
Already, donations are piling in, said Isaly, a financial planner and former Marine from 1988 to 1994. The organization received 38,000 AA batteries from Duracell — they came in 55-gallon barrels — and he's hoping for Dr. Seuss and Frozen Disney dolls. Last year, the organization received 10,000 Star Wars dolls.
Duck Dynasty, too, came through with 90,000 dolls and 57,000 beards. Isaly said he doesn't know how he will unload the fake facial hair.
"Whether you like it or not, you're getting a beard," he said. "We gotta get rid of these beards."