Toy drive efforts join forces

People likely don’t think much about it when they drop one or two toys into a Toys for Tots box or barrel around town, but there is an army of volunteers to collect and then distribute those gifts to needy children.

The Tacoma Elks Lodge is one of the nerve centers in that effort with this year’s tally set to break records.

The Elks Lodge has teamed up with the Tacoma office of the Salvation Army and Toys for Tots to provide toys, coats and gifts to some 3,000 children who would otherwise go without, said Salvation Army Executive Director Frank Walton.

“This is about getting together to help the community,” he said. “It is about helping these kids.”

Donations are coming in from various sources and being gathered at the Elks Lodge’s unused swimming pool. Walmart donated more than 100 of the some 500 new bikes being donated, for example, while donation collection sites dotted around the city have garnered a steady stream of toys for children of all ages. The goal is to give each child a bike, but the stock of donations might not stretch that far, so the fall-back option is to get a bike to at least each family.

The “big guns” in terms of toy donation efforts, as always, is the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots, which will fill the shelves at the Elks Lodge with some of its estimated 50,000 toys collected for this year’s giveaways in Pierce County.

As the plan goes, families in need who have registered with the Salvation Army will get a “shopping” appointment time during a three-day sprint before Christmas. They will then be able to simply stop by and pick up their bag of age-specific gifts.

Donations are still being collected with a desperate need for toys for babies and toddlers as well as for “tween” girls between the ages of nine and 12 and for both teenage boys and girls. Those shelves are largely bare, while about a quarter of the children fall into those ages.

This toy giveaway effort is a swan song of sorts. The Elks Lodge will be leaving the Union Avenue site this summer, so this holiday season will be the last in this historic location. Walton will be ending his 10-year stint at the Salvation Army in January, after finding himself a victim of the lagging economy. But those are issues to ponder another day.

“My immediate concern is for the kids,” he said.

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