Santa Claus gets a lot of help in Gloucester County.
Thanks to the local Toys for Tots chapter, there was a pile of gifts under the tree for nearly 27,000 children throughout the county last year.
“Each child received, between toys, books, games and puzzles, at least eight gifts apiece,” Kevin Baisch said. “We’re very fortunate here in Gloucester County. The people are extremely generous and give until they can’t give any more.”
Of course, regardless of how giving residents have been in the past, there is certainly some concern this year for fulfilling gift requests. Baisch, who has served as the coordinator for Gloucester County Toys for Tots with his wife, Shanin, since 2016, said they have seen an increase in applications for 2020, possibly due to effects from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of our concerns is that the donations will be less this year because some of the businesses that normally run toy drives are operating remotely,” Baisch said. “We’re a little bit concerned as far as what’s going to happen, as far as the amount of toys we have coming in.”
They have a nice head start, however, from donations that came in past distribution time last year. The difference for 2020 may mean children don’t receive eight toys this year, and instead two or three toys, but the Baisches remain optimistic
“The Toys for Tots program is set up to help families supplement Christmas, not necessarily to make their Christmas,” Baisch said. “We’ve been fortunate enough that we’ve been able to pretty much make kids’ Christmases, and we hope that we can do that again this year.”
Founded in 1947, Toys for Tots is run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and it aims to give toys to children whose parents would not be able to otherwise afford them. Baisch, who spent seven-and-a-half years in the Marine Corps and now belongs to the Marine Corps League Detachment, started volunteering with the county chapter alongside Shanin more than a decade ago. The effort is truly a family affair now, with the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Shanin’s mom and family members, and their Marine family volunteering.
“It’s just a very rewarding venture,” Baisch remarked.
Applications for this year closed on Oct. 31, and from there the Baisches immediately start sorting through requests and organizing distribution. Donations start to pick up around Thanksgiving, when “people start thinking about Christmas coming up,” Baisch said.
The Gloucester County program serves children from newborn through age 14.
They need donations for all ages, but especially for the newborn through age 2 and the 10 through age 14 brackets, for both boys and girls.
“In between there, that seems to be what people think of when they think of Toys for Tots. We get a lot of toys for (ages 3 to 9),” Baisch said.
Baby toys include rattles, soft sensory toys, play gyms, teethers, mirrors and musical toys. For the older kids, gifts include cologne and perfume, watch sets, remote controlled helicopters, fishing poles with tackle boxes, hair dryers, curling irons, makeup sets and arts and crafts.
Baisch said Gloucester County Toys for Tots is fortunate to work with a number of national and local organizations and sponsors. They plan to have about 300 boxes out in the community for donations, too.
When it comes to distribution time, the Baisches coordinate with local municipalities to come pick up the toys for their residents, a concept Shanin came up with in 2017 and works well for all involved. The municipalities then distribute the toys accordingly, whether from a centralized location in town or with help from the local police and fire departments. Residents from a few towns close to the warehouse pick up the toys on their own.
“We’re located in Clarksboro, so people coming from Franklinville or Logan Township, they have a 45 minute or hour and 15 minute drive to come to our facility,” Baisch explained. “With us being able to get the toys into their community, it takes a burden off of them.”
The Baisches and all volunteers are being extra mindful of COVID-19 precautions this year. They plan to leave toy donations in large storage containers for a week before handling them, and anyone at the building will be wearing face masks and face shields, as well as using plenty of hand sanitizer.
For those looking to donate, a list of drop locations will soon be posted on the Gloucester County Toys for Tots website at wenonah-nj.toysfortots.org. Once again, the Deptford Mall will also be receiving donations at its Santa display.
“It’s a labor of love. You feel so fulfilled knowing that you have helped and made somebody’s Christmas,” Baisch said.
“And when you have somebody that comes to you and shows that gratitude for what you’ve done, all the hard work and sweat and panic and everything else that goes with running the program, it’s all worthwhile just having one family come up and tell you, ‘My kids have Christmas because of you.’”
Learn more about Gloucester County Toys for Tots at wenonah-nj.toysfortots.org and by visiting the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/gloucestercountyt4t.