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Helping to ‘lighten the load’

Toys for Tots organizers made 55,198 children smile during the holidays

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Shanin and Kevin Baisch, coordinators of the Marine Corps Reserve Toys For Tots program in Gloucester County, check out the West Jersey Railroad Station, preserved by the Wenonah Historical Society.

Since taking over the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots of Gloucester County program in 2016, Kevin and Shanin Baisch and their dedicated group of volunteers have reached a historic number of collections during the Christmas holiday.

“On Christmas Day, we think of all the children with smiles on their faces,” said Kevin, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for seven years.

“I am extremely happy to help lighten the parents’ load at the holidays and relieve their stress,” explained Shanin, adding that when the couple first took over as Toys for Tots co-coordinators, parents had to drive to the program’s headquarters at the former Women’s Prison of Gloucester County in Clarksboro to pick up the donated gifts.

“Parents were crying tears because their car broke down, a tire needed to be changed or it cost so much to hire a taxi,” she recounted.

That’s when the couple decided to go to all the towns in the county and have them set up their own places to pick up donations.

“It is much better this way and the municipalities have been very cooperative,” noted Kevin, crediting the local pickups and the hard work of volunteers with growing the program by leaps and bounds.

Toys for Tots collected 84,500 toys in 2016, compared with 324,828 toys in 2023 – a 284% increase.

“This past year, we served 55,198 children throughout the county,” Kevin he said. “It is all possible thanks to the generosity of the businesses and residents of Gloucester County and the volunteers.”

“They work with me on the floor,” Shanin said of the volunteers. “They’re amazing and go above and beyond what I ask them to do.”

“There is no way we could get all these toys out each year without them,” agreed Kevin.

The volunteers include George “Gunny” Purkins; Amanda Bruce; Barry Bruce; Glenn Davis; Steven Nobles; Deanna Fishel; Charlene Radcliff-Madden; Barbara Bash; Tony Meade; Glenn and Heather Mullary; Syd and Shirley Breidenbach; the Cucci Family; the Mattie Family; Betsy Tucker and employees of the Paulsboro Public Works Department, who helped pick up the toys.

“Our youngest daughter, Katelynn Baisch, is 15 and has been helping us down at the Toys for Tots building since she was 7,” Shanin related. “Also, the members of Girl Scout Troop No. 623 in Washington Township lend a helping hand.”

The Mavridis family light show in Woolwich has helped draw donations in the last several years, the Baisches report.

“Jordan Slippi-Mensah, 12, who is the Toys For Tots Foundation Youth Ambassador, he started a hot chocolate stand to help children in need when he was 5, and has done it every year since,” Shanin said. “His efforts produce several hundred toys each year.”

Residents can donate to Toys for Tots year round by going to wenonah.nj@toysfortots.org. Volunteers begin putting out the 600-plus donation boxes at businesses, police departments, town halls and other locations on Oct. 1.

To make a financial donation, make a check payable to the Toys for Tots Foundation, 210 County House Road, Clarksboro, 08020.

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