By Sarrah Peters
The Toys for Tots program in Etowah County was nearly canceled this year, but thanks to a local church and some new volunteers the program is now aiming to help even more children this year.
“They were not going to do Toys for Tots this year,” said Ruth Moffet. “They didn’t have a location and volunteers were getting older.”
When Moffet, United Way’s 2-1-1/First Call for Help Program Director, found out that Toys for Tots was unable to cover Etowah County this year, she and her coworker, United Way Resource Development and Marketing Director Christi Mayo, were determined to fix it.
Moffet contacted her church, and New Destiny Christian Pastor Steve Smith wanted to hear more. Moffet facilitated a meeting between Pastor Steve and the previous Toys for Tots administrators Johnny Baker and Charlie Walker.
“It’s really just Pastor Steve being gracious enough to say that we can take it on, and we can do it,” said Toys for Tots Co-coordinator Lishala Carter. “Had he not been willing to just open the doors and say we could, then we wouldn’t be here.”
According to Moffet, as soon as Pastor Steve and New Destiny Christian Church agreed to take on the program and the decision was made to allow it to happen, he cleared an area for the toy warehouse, installing a new wall and shelving from the Toys for Tots previous location.
“He had all this done to accommodate it,” said Moffet.
Moffet credited Baker and Walker with working with New Destiny to get the new Toys for Tots facility and coordinators established so the program would run smoothly.
“They have been so supportive,” said Carter. “They did fundraising for us. They came by to check on us. And they also plan to help with give-out. Their support has been so foundational for us.”
The help was especially appreciated because the move caused Toys for Tots to get a late start this year.
“We kind of got a late start,” said Moffet. “Generally, you’re working long before we started. So, we actually got a late start and are serving more families this year.”
Last year, the Toys for Tots helped about 600 families. The program serves children ages 0 to 15.
“At this point, I can tell you that we have exceeded 600 applicants, so we expect to help maybe triple the amount that they did last year,” said Carter.
“I think, right now, even without our last intake, we’ve already done a little over 700 families,” said Moffet.
Right now, the program has about 20 volunteers, but Carter said that she is hoping more are on the way.
“What we plan to do is make an appeal to our local fraternities, sororities, school groups, high school football and basketball teams to get them to come out and make it a community effort,” said Carter.
Anyone seeking to volunteer with Toys for Tots can call 2-1-1.
If you haven’t registered with Toys for Tots, a registration drive will be held on December 4 between 2 to 7 p.m. at New Destiny Christian Church, located at 201 Goldenrod Avenue in Gadsden. It is the last day to go through the intake process.
“This will be our eighth intake day,” said Moffet.
“Which is unheard of,” added Carter.
In order to go through the intake process, applicants must bring proof of residency, preferably a utility bill; social security cards for every member of the household; if employed, the last month’s pay stubs; if they receive food stamps, Medicaid or WIC, then bring that number; and for adopted children, proof of the adoption.
Once the intake process is complete, applicants will receive a pick-up slip with a time and date to come get the toys. New Destiny Christian Church plans to decorate the pick-up area and make the pick-up days a fun, festive event.
“The majority was graciously given to us from the Marines because they’ve done it for the last 12 or 13 years,” said Carter. “The bulk of what you see was gifted to us and from there we started collecting in early November.”
In order to collect toys, boxes are placed in about 150 stores and businesses throughout the area.
“We still have boxes out,” said Carter. “We will leave them out until the first weekend before we give out the toys.”
The Toys for Tots program also accepts monetary donations. The money helps the program purchase toys that they did not receive through toy donations.
“Every dollar that comes into Toys for Tots goes back to our children,” said Carter.