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Toys for Tots drive facing an uphill battle this year

Toys for Tots drive facing an uphill battle this year

The Marines need a little help. While Fox Company is deployed in Iraq, supporters are trying to comp

The Marines need a little help.

While Fox Company is deployed in Iraq, supporters are trying to complete the reserve company’s U.S. mission: The New York Toys for Tots operation.

But it looks bleak. Last year, the effort fell 20,000 toys short and was forced to turn away thousands of children on its traditional Santa Claus train delivery. This year, Marines believe there will be even more families looking for toys.

The fear is that there will also be far fewer willing to donate, leaving many children without a new toy this Christmas.

“I know it’s tough times. But it’s time to do something for the children,” said Sondra Stephens, who is running the Schenectady toy collection out of her Union Street store, Sondra’s Fine Jewelry. She’s asking residents to make small sacrifices so they can afford to donate a toy.

“Maybe give up one little thing for a week — it could be a pack of gum — and buy a coloring book. A box of crayons and a coloring book would be appreciated. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant toy,” she said.

Last year, she collected 3,000 gifts for Toys for Tots. With the increased need, she’s hoping to nearly double that total this year.

In addition to collecting at her store, she’s put out toy boxes at the Open Door Bookstore on Jay Street, the police headquarters on Liberty Street, Starbucks on Watt Street and two other stores in the upper Union Street business district: AAA Northway and Salamack’s. She’ll also be collecting toys at Proctors during today’s Health Expo, and she’s sent out letters to corporations asking them to donate money for new toys.

Donors can also text 90999 to make a $5 donation, which will be automatically added to their cellphone bill.

In case that’s not enough, she’s also offering a free gift bag to everyone who drops off a toy at her store. The bags have jewelry cleaner, Starbucks coffee and discounts from upper Union Street businesses.

One donor will also win a 14-carat diamond star pendant, which will be raffled off just before Christmas.

“Not that people wouldn’t open up their hearts, because they have,” Stephens said. “But it would give them a little more incentive to open up their pocketbooks.”

The hope is that with such incentives and saturation coverage, she’ll be able to collect 5,000 toys by Dec. 20. So far, donations have only been trickling in — she’s collected about 1,300 toys. With just six weeks to go, she’s way behind.

Toys for older children are most needed, she said, particularly for older girls.

“Last year some people put together little bags of shampoo, nail polish, nail files . . . you know, some of these girls are washing their hair with bar soap,” she said. “Or a book for an older child, maybe a CD of music. This is one of the few charities where everything that is donated goes to charity.”

Residents who need a toy can sign up at Sondra’s Fine Jewelry or at www.toysfortots.com. Toys will be distributed by train from Binghamton to Plattsburgh.

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