Marines are not in the habit of asking for help, but they make an exception for the annual Toys for Tots drive because they are looking for upward of 40,000 new, unwrapped toys.
“That sounds like a big number because it is,” says John Kovalcik of the Marine Corps League, Grand Strand Detachment No. 873. Kovalcik is the coordinator, with Keenan Walsh, of the Horry County Toys for Tots drive. Kovalcik has been running the annual drive for 15 years and prior to moving here he helped collect toys in New Jersey. So it’s something short of encouraging to hear him say that this “is proving to be my worst year” thus far. “We’re really struggling.” On the other hand – that would be the positive one – Kovalcik knows the annual drive, which kicked off the first of November, “is a waiting game. I think everybody waits – I can’t blame them.” The drive continues until Dec. 17, almost a month away, and “after that, it’ll be a busy week.”
Toys for Tots is in the same quandary as other charities. Donations are down even as demand is up. Walsh notes that “Some who used to help now need help.” For Horry County Toys for Tots, donations of toys fell to 26,000 in 2011 – 13,000 short of the best year before the recession of 2008. Collections were off in 2009 and 2010. Walsh, a funeral director, helped with Toys for Tots in High Point, N.C., and then affiliated with the area Marine Corps League and has worked with Kovalcik for 12 years.
In addition to the time remaining in the drive, Walsh says “We do have a lot more businesses with collection boxes and hope that translates to more toys.”
There are several ways anyone can help make this year’s drive a success. Purchase new toys and take them to a collection box. Ask members of groups, clubs or the neighborhood, to buy toys and bring them to the group’s next meeting or holiday event. Not into shopping? Make a financial donation to Toys for Tots Foundation. Or volunteer at your civic club to collect cash and do the shopping.
If you are purchasing toys, they must be new. Kovalcik says two $10 or $12 toys is better than one $20 item. He’s looking for numbers – for an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 Horry County children. Toys for Tots doesn’t take clothes or food. He recalls buying toys for $3 several years ago and now those same items cost $12. A new twist this year: Help 4 Kids is screening requests to receive toys. Barb Mains of Help 4 Kids says her volunteers are using Charity Tracker, a program that helps determine qualified clients. “It’s a good thing – I like it,” Mains says.
Toys for Tots is one of the most reliable of charities. It dates to 1947 and the late Walt Disney drew the choo-choo logo. An estimated 400 million toys have been distributed to untold numbers of children who might otherwise might not have had a Christmas gift. For anyone concerned about too much emphasis on gifts, remember that the Magi brought gifts to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea.