November 26, 2021

Toys for Tots still a go

Christmas gift donation boxes to be placed Monday

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Norm Stitzel, the leader of the local chapter of the Marine Corps League Toys For Tots, organizes Christmas gifts on Tuesday. The presents will be distributed to local families.

Norm Stitzel stood Tuesday afternoon inside the vacant store in the Riverside Plaza in Cortland.

While much of the room was empty, Stitzel could envision acrylic shields that would soon be hung at the reception table as a safety precaution during the coronavirus pandemic. He could see eager people, spread 6 feet apart, standing in lines waiting their turn.

He soon began to reorganize white boxes printed with red lettering that read “Toys for Tots,” which next month will be the main attraction as families select presents to give their children.

Stitzel knows the drill well, as the longtime coordinator of the local chapter of the Marine Corps League’s annual Toys for Tots drive, which distributes toys and books to needy families. But this year’s event will see a tighter schedule and a more hurried process to give out the gifts.

However, kids will still be able to get a big toy, a small toy, a book and a stocking stuffer, Stitzel said. And they’ll still be able to pick them out. He said it’s usually easy to get the gift for the younger children, but teenagers are harder. Electronics like headphones or Bluetooth speakers are popular with that age group.

“We are going ahead with our usual campaign obviously with certain adjustments,” Stitzel said.

One of the changes is people can request toys for only two weeks, from Nov. 1 through Nov. 14, when it’s usually four or five weeks.

How you can you help

Checks or money order: Payable to Toys for Tots, P.O. box 5113, Cortland, N.Y. 13045

Donate online: Specify Cortland at

Volunteer: Call or email local coordinator Norm Stitzel at or 607-423-9031 Apply for toys beginning Nov. 1:

Distribution will still be spread across five nights, although people who miss their scheduled shopping night won’t be able to reschedule this year, Stitzel said.

During the distribution, acrylic shields will protect volunteers, masks will be required, markers will indicate where people can stand in order to socially distance and there will be hand sanitizer.

Stitzel said he still plans to distribute 60 to 70 donation boxes starting Monday across the county. The list of donation sites will be on the Toys for Tots website.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic this year, Norm said he’s about $6,000 behind in donations. And he’s unsure of whether there will be a greater need this year because the pandemic did leave some people without jobs, although others got help through unemployment.

He said the plan is to essentially prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

In 2019 Stitzel distributed 4,113 toys to 1,438 children.

Jason Cicioni, a financial adviser with Edward Jones in Cortland, is excited to participate in any way he can.

“Toys for Tots fills a need and a void that isn’t getting filled in other places,” he said. “Sometimes those kids — that’s all they get. If we can bring a little joy and a little happiness to someone’s life, it’s the least we can do.”

The organization fills two to three boxes each year, with Ciciono and his wife determining the cost of the donated gifts and then donating matching funds.

Cicioni has been participating with the program for 11 years, even helping to start a Poker Run in the spring to raise funds.

He’s also helped in the past to hand out the toys.

“Norm does an amazing job on a shoestring budget,” he said. “There’s a greater need for it than you can even imagine. Angels come in different forms.”


City Editor Kevin Conlon contributed to this report.