More than 1,000 needy children in the Capital Region are going to have to look elsewhere for Christmas presents this year.
The local administrators of the national Toys for Tots campaign have broken ties with a couple of local charities that have received presents for more than a decade from the group. The charities, which include the Boys & Girls clubs of Schenectady and Southern Rensselaer County, were recently notified that they shouldn’t expect any presents from Toys for Tots.
“Probably three weeks ago we were loosely informed that we wouldn’t be receiving any local toys,” said Shane Bargy, executive director of the Schenectady club, which needs about 850 toys. “Basically a 15-year relationship came to a sudden end and it shocked us.”
How to help
Cash and toy donations can be made in person at:
• The Boys & Girls Club of Southern Rensselaer County, 544 Broadway, Rensselaer, NY 12144
• The Boys & Girls Club of Schenectady, 400 Craig St., Schenectady, NY 12307
Bargy said the group pleaded its case in the wake of the decision but was told that none of the Boys & Girls clubs in the more than a dozen counties served by the local branch of Toys for Tots would be getting presents. “We were not really given reasons that made sense to us,” he said.
He said the group was told that its nonprofit paperwork was incorrect and that it didn’t represent needy children. The Schenectady club serves children in the Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant neighborhoods, two housing authority neighborhoods and part of Rotterdam. Bargy said it was suggested that the kids in Rotterdam weren’t needy, but he stressed that at least half of the children in the club from there are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.
“There are a lot of kids in need in Rotterdam as well,” he said. “We serve some of the neediest communities in Schenectady County.”
Bob Becker, local coordinator of Toys for Tots, said in a phone interview on Thursday that he couldn’t give a reason why the Boys & Girls clubs were being dropped while he was away from the office. He alluded to a problem with paperwork from the clubs, but couldn’t specify what the problem might be.
Richard Van Vorst, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Rensselaer County, which needs at least 350 toys, said his organization’s paperwork was fine and comparable to what they’ve submitted for the past 10 years.
Before this year, the program was administered by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, but is now run by the local branch of the Marine Corps League. Becker said this year’s paperwork requests reflected standards set by the national branch of the organization.
An email sent to the national branch of Toys for Tots in Virginia seeking comment was not responded to on Thursday.
Van Vorst acknowledged that the paperwork request this year was different but said it was also unreasonable. He said the local Toys for Tots group wanted to know in October who would be receiving toys, even though his club is still getting requests for toys.
“In the past they’ve requested the information after the fact,” Van Vorst said.
He added that his organization had been told they weren’t receiving presents because they served too many children and would require too many toys. If that was the case, he said, they shouldn’t have been cut out completely.
Becker stressed that the local chapter of Toys for Tots is doing the best it can with more requests for presents this year and fewer donations coming in. He said a number of new agencies would be receiving presents, but couldn’t name one while traveling out of the office on Thursday.
This story might not have a sad ending, though, as Bargy said his club has been notified by the national arm of the Toys for Tots program that they would deliver presents directly to Schenectady. “[They] assured me they’re coming,” he said.
Because Van Vorst had trouble getting a confirmation in October that Toys for Tots would be serving them, he began taking steps to replace them. He said the club’s board of directors was adamant that the tradition of giving out presents continue. Some individual board members hosted toy drives at their businesses, while some made cash donations. Community organizations also were brought into the mix.
Both clubs will accept cash and toy donations directly, as they anticipate additional needs will arise before Christmas.
Both clubs are hoping they can rely on Toys for Tots again next year. Bargy said the problems this year seem to be on the local level and stressed that he had nothing negative to say about the whole program. “Toys for Tots has been a savior for our families,” he added.
For his part, Becker hinted that he and his volunteers might be quitting after this year because of outside interference and demands from the national branch.
“We’re not going to walk away this year. We’re going to finish our mission,” he said.
Becker added that he had talks with the national branch Wednesday night and told them he wasn’t happy with outside interference and wanted local clubs to receive presents through the proper channels.
“We’re doing the best we can,” Becker stressed.