Joan and Bob Nast showed up to the Marine Toys for Tots warehouse last week in a U-Haul, expecting boxes of toys to hand out to children with special needs at their annual holiday party.
“I was kind of embarrassed,” Nast said, when she saw that there were only five boxes waiting for her. “I could tell they were hurting. Like they wanted to do more, but just didn’t have enough toys for everyone.”
In the past, the Nasts have counted on the Toys for Tots program to make their party at God’s Little Acres in Coconut Creek extra special. The Nasts are not alone. Dozens of organizations across South Florida have put in requests for toys to serve nearly 60,000 children.
But this year’s collection hasn’t been as prosperous as in previous years, said Gunnery Sgt. Dennis Polo, who is heading up this year’s effort in Miami-Dade and Broward. Polo said with less than two weeks until Christmas, they still need about 35,000 toys to fill all of the orders.
One of the reasons for the lag, Polo said: The closing of all Toys “R” Us stores last summer. Toys “R” Us was a visible toy donation site across the nation; the stores also collected cash donations.
“There were 23 stores in Miami-Dade and Broward,” he said. “That’s a huge hit.”
And South Florida isn’t alone. Ted Silvester, the vice president of marketing and development for Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, said the struggle is being felt nationwide. He emphasized the fact that one person can make a huge difference.
“If everyone gave one toy, we would be a lot closer to our goal,” he said. Last year, Marine Toys for Tots donated nearly 18 million toys to nearly 7 million children across the United States.
Polo said the Marines have been working even harder to find new locations, corporate sponsors and individuals to contribute.
“This is a mission that we will get accomplished,” Polo said. “We just need help.”
For more information on how to donate visit www.toysfortots.org.