JOHNSTOWN - John Pradelski has been involved with the local Toys for Tots campaign for about five years, and this year, the demand for toys is the highest he's seen.
"We'll be passing out toys for 1,500 kids," said Pradelski, the local Toys for Tots coordinator. "We're over 150 kids from last year. This is the highest year."
The toy-collection effort for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's 2012 Toys for Tots campaign in Fulton and Montgomery counties winds down this week.
Toys for Tots volunteer Carol Piehuta of Johnstown places toys onto a shelf in one of the rooms inside the Jansen Avenue school building in Johnstown on Friday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Main Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep of Johnstown offered the use of one of its vehicles for the 2012 Toys for Tots campaign of Fulton and Montgomery counties. In the photo, Alex Isabella, center, presents the keys along with partner George Kline to John Pradelski, right, Toys for Tots coordinator for the area. The van will be used to pick up and deliver toys in the two counties. Main Chrysler is one of the major sponsors of this year’s campaign.
Toys for Tots volunteer Bruce Mrha of Johnstown carries large bags of toys from a van outside the Jansen Avenue school building in Johnstown on Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
The campaign tries to give each child in need up to age 14 at least one new toy worth $15 or more, plus additional toys.
This year, organizers are noticing many of the donated toys are of less value because people and businesses don't have the money they've had in the past.
"There used to be more $15 toys," Pradelski said. "Now there's the $3 and $4 toys. People are doing the best they can."
Here are some facts about the Toys for Tots program:
The national Toys for Tots program began in 1947. It is operated by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
The local program plans to hand out toys to 1,500 children.
The local drive continues through Friday.
Pradelski coordinates the annual program for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation, Adirondack Detachment 787, Marine Corps League in Mayfield.
The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, a tax-exempt, not-for-profit public charity, is recognized by the U.S. Marine Corps as the authorized fundraising and support organization for the Toys for Tots Program. The foundation has supported the Toys for Tots campaign since 1991. The organization's website is www.toysfortots.org.
With a local base of operations at the former Jansen Avenue Elementary School in Johnstown, the program provides new toys for needy families throughout Fulton and Montgomery counties. Local businesses, organizations and private citizens provide financial donations for the program.
Toys for Tots began in 1947, when Maj. Bill Hendricks and a group of Marine Reservists in Los Angeles collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children. The idea came from Hendricks' wife, Diane. In fall 1947, she crafted a homemade doll and asked her husband to deliver the doll to an organization that would give it to a needy child at Christmas.
Pradelski said the program last year provided more than 1,385 area children the joy of opening a new toy on Christmas morning, and close to 4,000 toys were distributed.
"We have two ways of doing our campaign," Pradelski said.
He said there are about 10 nonprofits - such as Fulmont Community Action Agency, which helps the poor, and area churches - that put in requests for distribution of gifts on behalf of families.
"We fulfill them first," he said.
After filling those requests, other families in the area who request toys are served.
"The support is absolutely invaluable to us," said Fulmont Executive Director Denis Wilson. "We're not allowed to buy any toys from grant monies."
Pradelski said the signups for who gets the toys ended today, although there are "emergency signups" by calling 762-8699.
He said collections of toys will continue through Friday.
Donated toys must be new and wrapped.
Collection sites include Alpin Haus, Amsterdam Big Lots, Amsterdam Dunkin Donuts, Amsterdam Fitness Center, Perth Senior Citizen Center, Amsterdam Time-Warner Cable, Amsterdam UPS Store, Amsterdam Walmart Store, Amsterdam American Legion, Gloversville Dollar General, Gloversville Dunkin Donuts, Gloversville Family Dollar, Gloversville Fit Happens, Fulton County Federal Credit Union, Gloversville Hannaford, Lexington Center in Gloversville, Gloversville Postnet, Gloversville Swany America Corp., Gloversville Walmart Store, Citizens Bank, Johnstown Dunkin Donuts, Johnstown Family Dollar, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, John C. Miller, Lincoln/Mercury in Johnstown, Johnstown Senior Citizens Center, LaMori's Corner Deli in Johnstown, Lone Palm Gourmet Coffee in Johnstown, ProBuild Building Supply in Johnstown, Ruby & Quiri in Johnstown, Johnstown Townsend Leather, Johnstown Trackside Apartments, Fulton County YMCA, Broadalbin Dunkin Donuts, VFW Post No. 942 on Route 30A, Fonda Dollar General, Fonda Family Dollar, Fort Plain Dunkin Donuts, Mobile Mart in Mayfield, Kitchenette Diner in Northville and Kinney Drugs in St. Johnsville.
Pradelski estimated this year's campaign includes about 70 Toys for Tots boxes at stores and private offices.
He said he and his wife, Mary, run the local volunteer effort, packing toys together for families on Dec. 18 and 19. Pradelski said when organizations and families sign up, they schedule a date and time to pick up their toys from Jansen Avenue Elementary School on Dec. 21 and 22.
Pradelski said Toys for Tots also leads efforts to raise money to buy some of the new toys needed. Fundraisers include the Buy A Choo-Choo campaign in 10 area locations, bottle drive and boot drop. Pradelski said funding goes into a campaign account, and this year, $8,000 was used to buy some of the toys needed. He said the campaign also receives corporate support.
The public can contribute monetary donations to Toys for Tots through the website or by calling 762-8699.
Michael Anich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.