December 2, 2021

Stocking up for the season

Toys for Tots prepares for its annual gift giveaway

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Norm Stitzel, coordinator of the Marine Corps League’s Toys for Tots program in Cortland County, rearranges boxes of toys Tuesday for the drive to provide holiday gifts for more than 1,000 children. Boxes to collect more toys will be distributed Sunday. Toys will be distributed over five days in December.

They may not be Santa’s big red sacks, but an annual effort to distribute Christmas toys to hundreds of Cortland County children begins Monday when about 70 large white cardboard boxes will be distributed to collect donations.

The Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots Campaign will drop off the boxes at businesses, some for donations from employees and some from customers as well, said Norm Stitzel, coordinator of the Cortland County Toys for Tots program.

The Sons of Sam motorcycle club alone last year filled 15 boxes and it wants to increase the total to 20 this year, he said.

Dustin Sherman, who runs the sales department for Hartleys Auto in Polkville, said he is the founder of the JTM Ruck Club, which collects donations, puts them in bags and runs with them from Main Street in Cortland to Hartleys to help the Toys for Tots program.

“We carry toys from one point to another and drop them off at Hartleys,” Sherman said. “It’s been getting bigger each year.”

Each child receives a big present, a small one, a stocking stuffer and a book, Stitzel said Last year, about 1,050 children received more than 3,000 toys, down from 2019 when 1,438 children received 4,113 toys, Stitzel said, noting a similar trend across the country for Toys for Tots programs.

“It was down,” he said. “It was down around the country.”

Stitzel speculated that federal stimulus checks may have helped families buy presents and other organizations increased their efforts to assist families.

To help

  • Checks can be sent to Toys for Tots at P.O. Box 5113, Cortland, NY 13045.
  • Donations can also be made at and people can specify that they want the money to go to the Cortland County program.

To get help

  • The Toys for Tots campaign will accept requests for gifts online from Monday through Dec. 10 at cortland-ny.
  • Within five days of the request, applicants will be notified by email of which nights they can pick up their toys at the distribution warehouse.
  • Recipients must be Cortland County residents and must provide their identification and identification for each child that includes the full name, such as a birth certificate or insurance card, on the night the toys are picked up.

While many people donate toys for young children, there is more of a need for toys for teenagers, Stitzel said.

“If it lights up, the little kids are good,” he said. “It is harder to get toys for the older kids. Teens are the toughest ones to buy for, usually.”

Stitzel said drones or remote-control cars are popular among teenage boys while teenage girls tend to prefer cosmetics; art sets are popular for children 12 and older.

The program also seeks monetary donations, as it can buy toys from wholesalers at reduced prices.

“We can spread money more than the average Joe,” Stizel said.

Assigned shopping nights will be rescheduled only once, but a proxy can pick up the items if the person has a note from the applicant.

To reduce the number of people in the distribution center, only the applicant or a proxy can come. They must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth at all times.

Toys for Tots dates back to at least the mid-1970s, and the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office operated.