CAPITAL REGION -- A conglomeration of businesses and organizations have come together to help the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve deliver toys to area children this year.
The effort to find a new means of delivery began after Amtrak announced earlier this year it would no longer participate in the program.
The Capital Region Toys For Tots campaign announced Wednesday that Norfolk Southern Railway will provide the Marine Corps Reserves’ Dunkin’ Toys for Tots Train this year. It will bring thousands of toys along the first leg of the charity's holiday campaign in New York, setting out from Binghamton on Dec. 1, with stops in Bainbridge, Oneonta, Cobleskill and Delanson.
On Dec. 9, the second leg of the delivery effort begins, courtesy of the newly formed Capital Region Toys For Tots Northern New York Sheriff's Coaltion Road Train. The convoy is made up of six tractor-trailers, led by a police escort with representatives from the sheriff's offices of Saratoga, Clinton, Essex and Washington counties.
It will leave from Maple Avenue High School in Saratoga Springs to deliver the rest of the toys to Fort Edward, Ticonderoga, Keeseville, and Rouses Point. Local companies and organizations that are donating use of the tractor-trailers include: Auto Solutions, Borwegen Trucking, Dunkin’, Freihofer’s, R.H. Weisheit Trucking and Roberts Towing and Recovery.
Dozens of volunteers will ride in the convoy as well, on passenger buses being provided by Upstate Transit of Saratoga.
Amtrak announced over the summer that, because of new company policies regarding charter trains, Amtrak would no longer provide charter transport for Toys For Tots.
"Amtrak's objective is to operate its core, scheduled train service safely, on time, and efficiently, and must therefore decline to operate this charter," the company said in a prepared statement at the time. "Amtrak will continue to proudly support the Toys For Tots program through the collection of toys at participating stations."
Toys For Tots began its search for new transportation means by reaching out to regional companies and agencies, including law enforcement.
The loss of Amtrak was not the only change Toys For Tots was forced to work around this year. The organization previously operated out of a building in Schenectady at 1482 Erie Blvd. That building was owned by Schenectady businessman Ray LeGere, who previously donated first-floor space to the organization. But that space has been rented to a permanent tenant, so the campaign moved to 21st Century Park Drive in Clifton Park in a warehouse directly behind Starpoint Church.
Patrick Lurenz, assistant coordinator for the Capital District Toys For Tots campaign, said the organization was able to overcome hurdles because the community stepped up to help.
"We have fought through some real challenges this year," Lurenz said. "We are now pleased to announce that we have now, in pure United States Marine Corps fashion, improvised, overcome and adapted to the changing battlefield that was presented to us and completed our missions in securing the much-needed holiday distribution train. We could never do this alone."
Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said that, when he found out about the Marines' need for help, he began immediately calling his counterparts in other counties to formulate a delivery plan.
"We will continue without the train; we will get these toys delivered," he said on Wednesday.
This year, Dunkin Donuts, as it has in the past, donated $30,000 to the campaign, with $25,000 going toward the purchase of toys and the remaining $5,000 paying for coats.
The Toys For Tots collection and distribution area stretches from the Canadian border to just south of the Capital Region. There are more than 400 drop-off locations in that area, including more than 100 Dunkin' Donuts shops. Dunkin’ has donated nearly $300,000 to the program over the past 10 years.
The Saratoga County Sheriff's Department has donated more than $40,000 in toys over the last five years.
Though the Marines coordinate the campaign, Lurenz explained that the toy gathering process and toy deliveries are and always have been a community effort.
"This year has been wrought with challenges and issues that have come up, and each and every time, we have turned to members of our community, and they have solved that problem. So without the community, this program would not exist," Lurenz said.