Give the gift of Christmas this year through Toys for Tots

Donations are being accepted until mid-December to help local families in need.

By KRYSTAL NURSE

The Sun

Wenonah couple Kevin and Shanin Baisch have been the coordinators for the Gloucester County Toys for Tots for the past three years, and Kevin, being a Marine veteran, said he took on the responsibility following his experience while in the service. Now, the two are gearing up for yet another season of giving.

The central facility is run out of Clarksboro and is where all toys collected from the nearly 50 public and private drop-off sites throughout the county (and some just outside of the county) are stored.

It is unknown how many toys they’ve been able to collect (numbers aren’t submitted to the national charity until after the holidays). They anticipate receiving more than 1,000 requests from families for toys, but their goal is to reach 20,000 children. Last year, they received around 77,000 toys for just over 15,000 children in Gloucester County.

Several locations in the county have agreed to be an official distribution sites, however, none in Mantu had notified the coordinators as of publication date.

Heather Ridge Apartments (454 Heather Drive) is the only official collection site open to the public. Private ones (employees or students only) include National Paintball (570 Mantua Blvd.) and Delaware Valley Wholesale Florist (520 Mantua Blvd.). All are collecting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“It’s always good to give something to someone less fortunate this time of year,” said Dawn Moncrief of Heather Ridge Apartments.

They are accepting donations of new, unwrapped toys Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until mid-December. Previously, the apartment complex has participated in food drives, and Moncrief added the community seems to be responding well as the donation box has been steadily growing.

“As the season nears to December, they will call us asking to come pick up the toys,” said Kevin. “We have one cargo van that drives around and picks up the toys. A couple of people use their own cars and pick them up as well.”

Once received, volunteers separate the toys to allow for them to be easily picked out and packed away for families or, new this year, distribution sites.

“Shanin came up with the idea and was like ‘we need to contact the municipalities and let’s try to get the toys out to where people live,’” said Kevin.

Before notifying the distribution sites toys are ready to be picked up, they’re sorted according to either age group and gender, based on the requests, or bags with a family’s name are made with toys inside. If a municipality doesn’t have a distribution site, families will need to come to the Clarksboro location at (210 County House Road, Shady Lane Complex).

“We had people crying telling us that without Toys for Tots they wouldn’t have had a Christmas,” said Kevin. “We surprised some people with bicycles and they broke down in tears. The biggest thing that was said is ‘you guys made my kids’ Christmas, if it wouldn’t have been for you we wouldn’t have had a Christmas.’”

Kevin added a Deptford mother walked from a bus stop that was one mile away with a 2-month-old in a stroller to collect the toys that were being donated to her. At the time of collection, she won a raffle for a bike (large items are raffled off due to the low inventory) and opted out of the transportation from volunteers to deliver the toys back to her family.

“When you see people do stuff like that for their kids, that’s what touches us the most and motivates us to put in the 60 to 70 hour weeks that we put in as the season gets busy,” said Kevin. “My wife works for Deptford and puts in those hours down here on top of that. It’s gotta be a labor of love.”

Despite the organization ending a chunk of its collection once Christmas has passed, Shanin added they continue giving toys to families in need.

“If we have families that have fires, sometimes the fire chiefs will get in touch with us because there’s children involved and they lost their toys,” said Shanin. “We’ll help them get some toys back so that it’s not so traumatic to the children that are involved with the fire.”

Those wishing to donate new, unwrapped toys can find the nearest drop-off location at www.Wenonah-NJ.ToysForTots.org. In Mantua, Heather Ridge Apartments is accepting donations until around mid-December. Those wishing to donate are to call the complex to confirm the donations haven’t ended at 856–468–4104.