Toys for Tots - Putnam Sentinel
PUTNAM COUNTY — Area residents have until December 12 to contribute new toys, still in their original packaging for the annual U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program. Nationally, the Toys for Tots program distributed 18 million toys to 7 million less fortunate children in 2016 as stated on the organization’s website.

According to Glen Arnold who has been helping to organize the local effort for over 15 years with the Putnam County Optimists Club, around 700 area children aged 12 and under typically received a Christmas gift through the program. He emphasized that 100 percent of money and toys donated in Putnam County stay in Putnam County to help families in Putnam County.

When speaking of his own motivation for helping to organize Toys for Tots, Arnold says, “Kids don’t pick their socioeconomic situation, they don’t get to pick the quality of their parents and things like that. It’s an opportunity to let children have a Merry Christmas.”

Becky Diemer, who is also a member of the Optimists Club and has assisted Arnold for nearly eight years by keeping track of the financial donations and then using those funds to purchase additional toys agrees, saying, “It’s gratifying to be able to see the kids. Just seeing the families come in and how much they appreciate the toys that they can get for their kids. It opens your eyes to see that there are people out there in Putnam County that do need your help.”

In Putnam County, members of the Junior Optimists Club, the Senior Optimists Club, Leipsic True Value Hardware Store, the Leipsic FFA, the Continental Fire Department and other volunteers all worked together to place the roughly 125 collection boxes around the county during the first week of November.

Once collection is completed on December 12, the toys will be brought to the Putnam County Community Thrift Store for its Christmas for the Needy program. From here, the process of distributing the toys is different than how Toys for Tots events are run in areas with larger populations. In those areas, the toys are preselected and placed into bags with little input from the parent. Only the age and gender of the children are taken into account when the gifts are distributed.

In Putnam County, a points system is used with parents being assigned a point total depending on the number of children in the household, as explained by the Director of the Thrift Store, Phyllis Macke, “The families have to sign-up for an appointed time. They come to the store first, the Thrift Store, and they’re given two bags of items that they select. They are also given a box of food, non-perishables and perishables, both. Usually it’s a couple of meats and paper products, things like that.

“Then, those families with children aged 12 and under, they, at that same time, have been given an appointment to go to the Toys for Tots. I register them, and they’re assigned a volunteer to walk around with them. They’re given so many points to spend per child, and can spend those points how they want to spend them. That’s how we keep it fair, we give them so many points.”

When asked why the process is designed this way, Macke speaks of empowerment and fairness. “Through Toys for Tots and having families come shop for their own toys, I feel it is empowering the families to be better parents for their children. Instead of just giving them any old toy, we’re giving them the opportunity to select from what the community has donated.

“We’re careful about duplication of services. This is in fairness, and also so donations are getting spread out to families in need. It works quite well. The families, if they choose to be helped through one of the social service agencies, like ‘Adopt a Family’ of some sort, then they give up the right to go shopping in the Toys for Tots store, but they still are able to get food and items through the store. They still can do that part, but not the Toys for Tots part, because the community is big at donating all the toys, so we like to keep that fair and balanced.”

The goal is to help the less fortunate. As Macke points out, this does not always mean the chronically poor. “We don’t turn any family away. They don’t have to prove financial need. We’ve had families in the past, such as when the flood came…Those families were so appreciative of Toys for Tots. We have a family this year, it’s the same kind of deal. There’s a family medical emergency that’s just worn them down and they’ve reached out. We’re going to be helping out and it’s just one less thing they have to worry about this Christmas. I’m sure it’s going to be the only Christmas we help them. We have unique situations and we have a lot of repeat families too.”

Macke also sees the improving economy impacting the people the Thrift Store serves. “This year, I think we’re going to be down about 100 children from previous years. Just from what we’re seeing in the store, that many more families are working. They’re holding good jobs where they just don’t need the services, and that’s a good thing.”

Regardless of need, every organizer spoken with emphasized that spreading the joy of Christmas remains a primary goal of the Toys for Tots, as Arnold put it, “I think all of us can remember Christmas when we were little children. To this day I remember the first time I got a bicycle for Christmas. Here I am in my 50s and I still have that fond memory from all those years ago. Hopefully these kids remember some of the toys that they do get at Christmas time and try to do a good job when it comes to Christmas time with their children and the opportunities that they’ll have. And, maybe an opportunity to volunteer in their community at some point in their lives.”