October 23, 2021

Toys for Tots copes with loss of support from defunct Toys ‘R’ Us

Making do with less

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

Volunteer Bethany Ellis sorts gifts Wednesday afternoon in the Cortland Toys for Tots warehouse.

Toys for Tots may not have Toys “R” Us backing it up anymore, but it’s still bringing pallet-loads of toys to Cortland to distribute to area children, said Norm Stitzel, Cortland County Toys for Tots coordinator.

Toys “R” Us used to make regular annual contributions to the county operation, but now that Toys “R” Us has drastically scaled down its operations, that substantial yearly donation — up to $6,000 per year — is also gone.

“We’re about $4,000 to $6,000 behind where we usually are,” Stitzel said. “We’re just squeaking by.”

Last year, the county Toys for Tots distributed 4,813 toys to 1,356 children — a number that Stitzel said he expects to surpass this year. So the county operation is not in danger of running out of toys, but it still doesn’t have the financial backing it once had, he said.

But so far everything is working out fine. Stitzel said the county operation had their first toy distribution night Nov. 13, and will continue on Wednesday nights from 5 to 7 p.m. until the last distribution night of Dec. 11.

Last week, 125 families were served, and this week, 135 more received toys, he said; the annual average is about 1,350 kids served per year. Parents drop by to pick up toys for their kids; each child gets a big toy, a small toy, a book and stocking stuffer, Stitzel said. Cortland County Toys for Tots aims to make up the loss of annual donations from Toys “R” Us by raising more money locally, partly by expanding on fundraising efforts at a yearly motorcycle ride.

The ride held in June at the Homer Elks Lodge, however, did not bring in as much out as they had hoped.

“We barely hit $2,000 this year,” Stitzel said. Next year, however, he said the group plans to put more time and effort into raising money from that event. “I’ll be very surprised if we don’t hit $4,000 or $4,500 for our motorcycle run next year,” Stitzel said.

Tuesday, another shipment of toys came in. Stitzel said he regularly places toy orders with HDI, a toy wholesale company in Wisconsin; a truck comes on average once every two weeks.

But toy-ordering is not done in bulk, he said. Jane Witty handles the demand side of the operation, and every week she gives him a list of children and their requests.

Stitzel said he uses that list when he orders toys, so the orders are as precise and efficient as possible.

“That way it spreads our dollar out just a little but further,” he said.

Parents who want to receive toys for their children can sign up at www.toysfortots.org. Businesses or groups that want to volunteer as a toy drop site can also sign up at the same website.

Volunteers who want to help with the local Toys for Tots operation can email toys4totscortland@gmail.com.

“We accept monetary and toy donations all year long,” said Stitzel. “Anything coming in now will be used as it comes in.”

There is no such thing as a late donation, he said, because whatever is not used this year can be used next year.

“We usually don’t get a huge tsunami coming in, but we always get enough to get by,” he said.

Tuesday afternoon, Stitzel unloaded the truck and unpacked two pallets of toys. Wednesday, volunteers were in the warehouse sorting toys at about 4:15 p.m., while outside about two dozens parents waited in line to shop. Stitzels said some had already been in line for an hour, waiting for distribution to start at 5 p.m.

Volunteer Colleen Sebring said she got involved in Toys for Tots through Stitzel, who attends the same church, Faith Baptist on Route 13 in Cortlandville.

“It’s a great opportunity to help in the community,” Sebring said.