The United States Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign locally has faced a similar predicament as many other charitable endeavors this year. Because of COVID-19, donations are down significantly while demand for the program has increased.
“Unfortunately, this year, it is only two toys per kids, a couple of books and a pile of stocking stuffers. Donations have been drastically reduced this year,” said Greg Sims, the coordinator for Whitley, Knox and Laurel County Campaign.
By comparison, last year each child received four toys.
While the local campaign helped nearly 5,000 children last year, this year it is serving almost 6,000 children.
“It is a big surge,” Simms added. “It’s great that we are reaching out and finding all these kids. It is also sad that we are reaching out and finding all these kids.”
Sims said that the last two years, the local campaign had been operating on a budget ranging from $15,000 to $18,000. This year, it only received about $6,000 worth of donations through Dec. 12.
“Last year I had 170 donation boxes out. This year we only had 90. This year bank lobbies were closed and a lot of restaurants and bars were closed or at limited capacity,” he added. “It’s been a tough year all the way around.”
The Toys for Tots program started in 1947 and is owned and is operated by the United States Marine Corps. From October to January, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves are under orders to do the Toys for Tots campaign unless they are deployed.
Sims noted that since there are no Marine Corps Reserve units in the area, the local project is run locally by civilian volunteers.
Nationally, there are 870 Toys for Tots campaigns across the country.
The only way a campaign gets started and functions is if someone goes to the official Toys for Tots website, and clicks on the button volunteering to lead a campaign. Then they fill out the application, go through a background check, are approved and have to go through three days of training every five years.
While Kentucky has 120 counties, there are only about 20 counties covered by Toys for Tots campaigns.
Sims noted that this is similar to the pattern around the rest of the county, and each campaign usually covers a handful of counties.
With no campaigns covering places like McCreary and Casey County, Sims said people coming from those counties without service aren’t refused by the Toys for Tots campaigns elsewhere, like the one for Whitley, Knox and Laurel counties.
Families have to meet certain financial criteria in order to qualify for participation in the program. The criteria is somewhat flexible depending on the number of children in each household and the household income.
This year the local Toys for Tots campaign altered how it distributed the gifts doing to a drive-thru like service at the University of the Cumberland’s Mountain Outreach warehouse in Emlyn.
Over the course of Saturday, Dec. 12, and Saturday, Dec. 19, participants drove to the warehouse and around a semi-circle drive there where runners would come out and get their paperwork and identification. The runners then brought the paperwork into the warehouse where supervisors double checked everything. Then volunteers took the paperwork and went to the various stations in the warehouse, which were largely divided by children’s age and gender, where they gathered presents in a plastic bag.
Once the presents and other goodies were all gathered, the runners would take the bags back out to the vehicles and often place the bags inside the vehicles for the participants.
Sims wife, Cathy Sims, serves as co-coordinator for Whitley, Knox and Laurel County Campaign, and handles many of the logistics for it, which she noted can be quite difficult and quite stressful.
“There is nothing easy about it,” Cathy Sims admits. “I always love to help people in every way but sometimes it gets stressful.”
Volunteer Marcy Fess noted that Cathy Sims “goes above and beyond the call of duty.”
Greg Sims added that any money or toys that come in over the need for this year would be put towards next year’s effort.
If anyone wants to donate, they can contact Greg Sims directly at (606) 549-4083 or (732) 991-1965.
You can also go online directly to the Whitley, Knox, and Laurel County Toys for Tots Campaign website at www.southcentralky.toysfortots.org, and donate directly to the campaign.
Greg Sims said that while all the local campaigns try to function relying on their own donations only to meet needs, the Toys for Tots Foundation also helps out.
He recently received nine pallets of toys from the foundation worth about $25,000 and about $23,000 worth of toys came in prior to that.
Also, the local campaign recently received four pallets of toys and gift, which were donated by Webbed Sphere, which is located in the north Corbin area. Titan Trucking picked up and delivered the toys to the campaign at no charge.