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Despite troubles, Marines press to meet quota for toys program

Two Marines celebrate as an arcade game at Magic Mountain spews out 200 tickets. They stuff them into a tall cardboard box already overflowing with thousands of tickets.

“I want to win that guitar,” Staff Sgt. Cary Anderson says, pointing to the wall of prizes. “Think I have enough tickets?”

The guitar isn’t all he wants. Anderson is playing the games with tokens donated by Magic Mountain to get toys for Central Ohio Toys for Tots, which the Marine Corps Reserve operates.

And with only about two weeks left to collect toys for the poor, Anderson has started to worry.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “I wish we could be doing better, honestly.”

Toys for Tots has collected about 17,000 toys this holiday season, but the group needs about 50,000.

With the economy in turmoil, the demand has increased by about 15,000 toys compared with last year, and donations are lagging.

Anderson acknowledged that he is panicking. “I don’t have 50,000 toys,” he said. “I don’t have my goal.”

Other Columbus-area groups said they, too, are in danger of not meeting demand.

“It’s a problem for everybody,” said Marilee Chinnici-Zuercher, president of FirstLink, an organization that helps people in need find assistance and directs volunteers to charities.

Franklin County Children Services, which works with more than 5,000 children, is another group looking for additional donations.

As part of its Holiday Wish campaign, Children Services plans to deliver gifts to all children who have an open case with the agency. Children 12 or younger receive toys worth $40, and teenagers get a $50 gift card.

As of Friday, the agency needed more toys and an additional $70,000 to meet the requests.

“The need out there has increased. And at the same time, people are tightening their pocketbooks,” said Megan Stevens, director of Holiday Wish.

The Salvation Army’s Christmas Cheer program gives families in need a box of food and toys for the children. Demand has reached an all-time high and, for the first time, the agency capped the number of families served, at 7,232, said Salvation Army spokeswoman Alice Hohl.

Some charities have fared better. Central Ohio firefighters reach about 12,000 children with their annual toy drive, and their donations are on target, Columbus Battalion Chief Doug Smith said.

The Volunteers of America also had enough donors by early November for all 54 families in its Adopt-a-Family program.

“We just had an outpouring of support,” Volunteers spokeswoman Megan Ericson said.

Toys for Tots and Children Services hope for a similar outpouring this week and next.

“It’s going to get accomplished,” Anderson said. “We’ll do it.”

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Category: Columbus Dispatch, Hard News

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