Families who need Christmas toys for their children should call 211, or dial 423-265-8000 or 1-866-921-3035. People who want to volunteer or donate toys should call one of those numbers and ask for Rene Eldridge.
Families that need toys for their children should call the United Way's 211 center no later than Dec. 13 to participate in its Christmas Clearance, where more than two dozen agencies help make kids' holidays sparkle.
This is the first year in at least eight years that the United Way will not have a Giving Tree after the deadline to assist those who waited to the last minute to ask for help.
"Like everything else, there is some element of planning that needs to occur. They hopefully can find the right program through 211 and sign up in advance so they can make sure their needs are met," said Sheila Moore, executive director of the Center for Nonprofits.
The Giving Tree, which served about 200 children from some 80 families in 2012, usually is held after the Christmas Clearance distribution around the last week before Christmas.
Its purpose was to give families that missed the Dec. 13 deadline one last chance to get gifts.
But the United Way no longer has the warehouse space to house the toys for the Giving Tree, Moore said. The Gifts in Kind and Furniture Bank programs that once housed the Giving Tree have gone under Goodwill's umbrella.
United Way officials also were concerned that some families were intentionally bypassing the earlier Christmas Clearance deadline and planning to use the Giving Tree.
The United Way's database showed that several Giving Tree clients were annual repeats.
It was also very hard getting volunteers to staff the Giving Tree because they were busy doing last-minute Christmas preparations for their own families.
Volunteers were crucial because they wrapped the gifts and received families when they arrived at the Giving Tree, said Eileen Rehberg, Building Stable Lives and 211 director.
It was a hard project to manage, said United Way officials.
The United Way anticipates distributing gifts to at least 7,000 families this year through its Christmas Clearance. The nonprofit is working with several agencies to make sure every family who needs toys gets them.
"They're not turning children away for toys," said Rene Eldridge, 211 resource manager.
There is no income limit. Most families that call really do need help, she said. The agency will screen to make sure the family calling for help hasn't already received gifts from another agency.
United Way officials also encourage churches, organizations and individuals who want to donate time, toys or money to assist with providing toys through the Christmas Clearance to call 211 by Dec. 13.
So far the agency has had more than 3,500 people call for help, but calls are still coming.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 757-6431.