Joe Johnston is in his first year leading the Marine Corps League’s Toys for Tots program and already a couple of things are apparent to him.
First, it’s just hard to buy for teenage girls and second, meeting the need in the community is always a challenge.
Toys for Tots has been a project of the Marine Corps and its supporting organizations since 1948. Locally, the Naples branch of the Marine Corps League, a group of former Marines, has been collecting toys for 45 years.
After assisting with the program in previous years, Johnston took over as the local chair this year.
This year’s toy drive officially began on Nov. 18 with a party at Pelican Bay. Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, touring in Southwest Florida at the time, were on hand to kick off the drive, pun intended. “I even got into the act,” Johnston said.
As has been the case in previous years, the drive stands far short of its goal with two weeks to go before toys are handed out.
The local chapter hopes to collect 20,000 items for an estimated 7,000 children 14 and under whose families might not be able to provide Christmas toys otherwise. So far, about 4,000 have been collected. “We’ve got some big numbers to overcome,” Johnston said.
On Saturday, postal workers will be gathering toys left at mail boxes, which should provide a boost.
Overall, Johnston doesn’t feel the drive is falling behind. “We’re doing pretty good, in spite of the lingering effects of the great recession,” he said. Also, as has been the case in the past, particular items are in short supply. There’s a good influx of toys for boys in the 3- to 10-year-old range. But items for older girls, cosmetic kits, art supplies and music players, are harder to bring in, Johnston said.
Also, unisex toys for infants up to 2 years old are lacking.
Drop-off boxes for new, unwrapped toys for Toys for Tots can be found at Coastland Center mall, Fifth Third Bank branches, Walgreen’s pharmacies, Publix supermarkets and a host of other businesses around town.
The former Devoe Buick showroom on Airport-Pulling Road is serving as the collection and distribution point this year.
Today and Friday the Marine Corps League will be taking applications from potential recipients of Toys for Tots.
Applicants should bring a photo I.D. showing they live in Collier County and a copy of a birth certificate of every child 14 and under for whom they wish to receive toys. The Devoe facility is located at 2601 Airport-Pulling Road just north of the county government center.
Toys will be distributed Dec. 18 at the same location.
In addition to its own program, Toys for Tots expects to assist other organizations, including the Cancer Alliance and the David Lawrence Center, with their toy drives, Johnston said.
For those without the time or inclination to shop for toys, Toys for Tots accepts money as well. Checks can be sent to P.O. Box 8982, Naples, 34101.
As the toy drive nears its end, Johnston and his crew will shop for toys at stores such as Walmart and Toys R Us, where the organization gets discounts. “We take an inventory and see where the holes are. The money is a way to fill those holes,” he said.
In total, Toys for Tots has delivered more than 400 million toys in its 62-year history.
Johnston hopes to see that number grow by at least 20,000 locally in 2010. “We have to rely on the good citizens of Collier County.”
More information about the national and local Toys for Tots effort is available at the group’s web site, toysfortots.org
Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten