Toys For Tots gathers gifts, finds new way to distribute them

GE retirees support needy children during their annual party
U.S. Marine Sgt. Christopher Croteau takes gifts for Toys For Tots from Bill Janis and his neighbor Helene Vincent.
U.S. Marine Sgt. Christopher Croteau takes gifts for Toys For Tots from Bill Janis and his neighbor Helene Vincent.

SCHENECTADY — General Electric retirees began their annual holiday party on Tuesday the way they usually do, with armloads of toys and handfuls of cash to help Toys For Tots bring Christmas to needy children.

“Every single year, GE knocks it out of the park with your toy donations,” Marine Sgt. Ted Kleniewski told the group gathered at Proctors. “Once again you guys did a fantastic job with your toys; It’s probably going to fill up 10 boxes and my van’s probably going to tip over.”

It was the 68th annual Holiday Party for the General Electric Retired Employees Association. Nearly all who walked into the Proctors Arcade carried a bag with one or more toys in it, or handed Kleniewski and Gunnery Sgt. Chris Croteau a small wad of bills for the cash donation box.

As the curtain call drew near, the stack of toys had grown to impressive proportions.

Croteau said the retirees group is a longtime supporter of Toys For Tots, the signature holiday campaign of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

“I’ve been doing this for about seven years now,” he said. “I know they’ve been supporting Toys For Tots much longer than that.”

Kleniewski added: “Schenectady’s got a rich history with GE. It’s definitely a great thing that we can interact with.”

GE retiree Pat Tearno has been coordinating the toy drive for the Retirees Association for only five years but supporting it for much longer.

“I just have a big heart for the kids that can’t afford it,” she explained.

She also acknowledged the efforts of her longtime employer.

“We are grateful to GE for sponsoring the event at Proctors every year,” Tearno said.

The regional Toys For Tots drive is based out of Clifton Park this year, and is well underway.

“We’re in full swing now,” Croteau said. “We have just about all our boxes out now, we have our events that we’ve been doing week in, week out.”

But it hasn’t been seamless, Kleniewski told the audience. There was the move from Schenectady to Clifton Park. There was the demise of a major booster, Toys R Us. And there was Amtrak’s decision this past summer to stop volunteering its trains for toy delivery.

On this last point, a solution apparently has been found: Kleniewski said a new distribution plan will be announced Wednesday morning.

“The Toys for Tots and the Marine Corps will not fail our mission, when it comes to getting these toys and coats and jackets,” Kleniewski said, adding that Capital Region Toys For Tots intends to reach even more children this year than the 160,000 it helped in eastern New York in 2017.

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