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Toys for Tots still needs hundreds of thousands of donations by Christmas Eve

With less than three weeks until Christmas, the local Toys for Tots drive is more than 230,000 gifts short of its goal for this holiday season.

Staff Sgt. Dan Sierra, coordinator for the Marine Toys for Tots drive in southern New Hampshire, said the campaign has lowered this year’s goal from 300,000 gifts to 250,000 gifts. And the Toys for Tots warehouse in Londonderry is still far from full.

“We only have around 11,000 toys,” Sierra said.

Toys for Tots collected about 180,000 toys in the southern part of the state last year, Sierra said. This year, his team of Marines and volunteers set up more than 500 drop sites for toys in this region – the greatest number of drop sites the local drive has ever had. More than 25 of those drop sites are in Concord.

Even as Christmas approaches, Sierra said he believes the toy drive can meet its goal.

“The state of New Hampshire, every year toward the end of the campaign, they donate and donate and donate,” Sierra said. “And we’re bombarded with gifts.”

Sierra and the Toys for Tots crew have been working weekends at the Londonderry warehouse to organize donations and distribute toys to families through local nonprofits such as Head Start, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army.

The drive can also give gifts to individual families who make requests directly to Toys for Tots, Sierra said, but those can only be filled after Toys for Tots sends all of its donations to local charities.

“I have kids of my own, and I don’t want other kids going without Christmas,” he said.

Gifts for infants and teenagers are the most difficult to find, but all toys are welcome, Sierra said. The warehouse will remain open to accept donations and distribute gifts until Christmas Eve.

“We don’t want to disappoint kids, period,” Sierra said.

Some local drives are also ongoing, including the holiday toy drive at Steeplegate Mall to benefit Friends for Forgotten Children. General Manager Joseph Eaton said this is the first year the mall has partnered with the nonprofit, which provides food, clothing and holiday gifts to low-income families in Greater Concord.

Eaton said when he stopped by the box in front of Toys R Us Express early yesterday, it was already halfway full.

“I’d like to see that thing get filled up a couple times between now and Christmas Eve,” Eaton said. “We try to get whatever we can to help out Friends for Forgotten Children.”

Even small, inexpensive items can be donated to the toy drive, Eaton said, and the box in the mall will remain open until Dec. 24.

“The smallest toy means a lot to them,” he said. “There’s nothing too small to go into that box.”

And at the Operation Santa Claus headquarters on Stickney Avenue in Concord, volunteers from the State Employees’ Association are now packaging gifts that will be delivered to children across the state Wednesday.

Linda Farrell, chairwoman of the SEA Operation Santa Claus board, said approximately 3,000 children identified by the Department of Health and Human Services will receive gifts through this year’s drive.

Operation Santa Claus provides basic information about each child – first name, clothing sizes and some of the items on his or her Christmas list – and asks donors to spend at least $60 on each child they sponsor. Donors from across the state can choose to sponsor a child in their local area.

“We have never had to send a child without their presents. . . . People are just wonderful, they turn around and they take these children and they buy for them,” Farrell said.

One donor in particular touched Farrell. When he noticed the list for the child he was sponsoring included a bed, Farrell said the donor called furniture stores and local businesses to find someone who could donate one. He couldn’t buy such a big gift, she said, but he wanted that child’s Christmas wish to be realized.

“We give you suggestions for what the child needs, what the child wants,” Farrell said. “We do not expect you to buy everything, but this guy went way over and above anything that was expected of him.”

Members of the National Guard will deliver these Christmas gifts across the state next week.

“There’s many, many organizations and individuals and state agencies that really work hard to make this whole project possible,” Farrell said. “Without them, I couldn’t do it, this whole committee couldn’t do it. I just want to thank everybody.”

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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