Given the troubled economic climate, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jason Foster is bracing for an extra-busy Toys for Tots program this year.
Unfortunately, the extra demand isn’t being met with extra help.
The Marine Corps Reserve program has less support than usual because the Chattanooga-based “Mike Battery” unit, which usually handles most of the fund-raising and toy distribution, will be in Iraq through much of November.
“We’ve got two strikes against us: less manpower and this economy,” said Sgt. Foster, who coordinates the program for Chattanooga and surrounding areas in Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama.
Last year, Toys for Tots distributed about 75,000 toys to 24,578 area children. But the Marines were out of toys by Dec. 19, Sgt. Foster said, and they want to avoid that problem this year if possible.
Stretching all the way to Christmas will require plenty of volunteers and plenty of donations, said Hospitalman 1st Class William Gordon — so the Marines are already calling out for help.
“We don’t like turning people away,” he said. “We don’t want any child in this area to wake up Christmas morning without a present under the tree.”
Retired Lt. Col. Ancil B. Garvin III of the Marine Corps League in Dalton, Ga., is spearheading efforts in the outlying counties. He worries that the middle-class people who once donated to the program now are going to have to be recipients instead.
It’s only October, but Northside Neighborhood House in North Chattanooga already has had about 25 families request assistance for Christmas, said volunteer Bonnie Cummins, who is known as “Mother Elf” during the holidays.
“It’s just starting to pick up,” Ms. Cummins said. “It’ll probably be rough this year.”
Northside Neighborhood House is one of a number of United Way agencies that registers and screens potential Toys for Tots recipients. Those who need help should call the United Way’s 211 help line, or go to the Toys for Tots Web site at toysfortotschatt.org.