T he train may have been late, but that didn’t stop Christmas from arriving early for about 160 local children.
A year after organizers were left scrambling to find toys for everyone, Sunday’s Toys for Tots event went off without a hitch.
“It was a much nicer system,” said Jim Lafayette, the local coordinator for the event. “Everything was organized, the bags were filled, and we had a better count.”
The annual event has grown in the last few years as local residents continue to struggle with the effects of a depressed economy.
That demand reached its peak last year after a record 210 kids showed up. Many of those had not pre-registered and organizers had to rush to local stores and purchase more toys to keep up the demand.
“Last year, we had 112 kids show up unannounced and it shorted the kids who were registered,” Lafayette said.
The events of 2011 prompted volunteers to change how they ran the event.
In the past, families would greet the train and then head to the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company where they would receive their toys.
This year, families greeted the train in the morning and came back to the fire house in the afternoon.
“It went a lot smoother this year. We had a bunch of good volunteers,” said Lafayette, who said the WVFC, American Legion Post 83, the Class of 1965, and a number of other individuals really stepped up to help.
That’s not to say there weren’t a few unexpected families who attended this year, but organizers were better prepared.
Organizers purchased toys Friday morning for the nearly140 children who pre-registered for this year’s event. When the finally tally came in at 164 children, volunteers had plenty of time to find a few toys to make up the difference.
Lafayette said local organizations and individuals raised nearly $2,250 in local donations to purchase toys for this year’s children. Those purchases helped augment toys provided by the Marine Corps Reserve.
Robert E. Becker Jr., a retired Marine and one of the regional coordinators for Toys for Tots, said nearly $70,000 was spent on toys for the two Capital District trains—one which traveled south and one that traveled north.
“Our major goal is to make sure that every kid has at least one present. We want to make sure that there’s something at home under their trees,” Becker said.
On Sunday, Marines, volunteers, and even Santa Claus, stepped off the train with bags of toys, winter coats and chocolate chip cookies.
Most of the toys were loaded into the beds of pickup trucks and driven across the street where they were organized and eventually distributed by volunteers.
The coats, cookies and a few small toys were handed out by Marines as a few hundred onlookers crowded around to watch.
The Toys for Tots event, which has been held for nearly 50 years and is conducted in communities across the country, is intended to help “needy” children whose families can’t afford toys.
Becker estimated this year’s northern train, which started in Mechanicville on Sunday morning and continued all the way to Rouses Point, would serve upwards of 500 children.
“You can see the need, especially as you head north where there’s not as much work,” Becker said.
“You get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing a smile of the kids’ faces.”