Toys for Tots program canceled

MECOSTA AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES — A 20-year tradition of providing Christmas presents for more than 2,000 local children has come to a halt.

Toys for Tots is cancelled this year.

The program, which served low-income families in Mecosta and Osceola counties, will not continue after the former directors of the program moved out of state, leaving the positions unfilled.

Though a separate organization, the Toys for Tots program has partnered annually with the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program in Mecosta and Osceola counties and the Department of Human Service’s Gifts for Kids program in Osceola County to supply holiday gifts for youngsters who otherwise may not have received any presents.

After learning about the cancellation of the Toys for Tots program in mid-October, Salvation Army Director Amy McMahan said initially she was worried about the increased burden that may be put on the Salvation Army’s program.

“We’re a little nervous, but I have faith,” McMahan said. “We added three days (for Angel Tree program sign-up) because we wanted everyone (eligible) to be able to be covered.”

The Angel Tree program asks parents with a qualifying income to fill out a wish list for their child, which is then placed on various “Angel trees” around the community. Individuals can take the tags off the tree and purchase the gifts, and bring them to the Salvation Army to be distributed to the children on Dec. 20. More than 100 families already are registered for the program.

“Toys for Tots has helped supplement presents for the kids whose tags are not chosen,” McMahan said. “Unfortunately, we’ve never been blessed to have all the tags taken.”

In Mecosta and Osceola counties, more than 40 businesses set up Toys for Tots boxes at their locations last year to collect new, unwrapped toys for children. The Angel Tree program is planning to ask businesses that would normally collect for the Toys for Tots program to continue their support by collecting toys for their program. Gifts for Kids typically does not put out collection boxes, but would welcome any businesses interested in collecting toys for them.

Entering Gifts for Kid’s 32nd year, Nancy Lentz, community resource coordinator for DHS of Mecosta and Osceola counties, said Toys for Tots has been a “strong supporter” of the program for many years. A portion of the toys collected through Toys for Tots was given to children signed up through Gifts for Kids.

“Part of our discussion was how to try to fill the gaps left behind because Toys for Tots isn’t here,” Lentz said. “It’s going to be a challenge. I have faith that the community will step up. I truly have been amazed over the years with what communities like ours can do.”

The Gifts for Kids program typically donates holiday gifts to around 1,000 Osceola County residents of any age. Seventy-four households already are registered this year.

Families sign up by calling Love INC in Cadillac, and various age groups are adopted by groups in the community. They collect donations of cash or gifts and purchase gifts for the individuals signed up in the age group they selected.

A distribution of toys will be held on Dec. 8 at Evart Middle School. When families are signed up, they will receive a letter with information about the distribution and where to pick up a food basket.

Both programs accept financial donations.

“We can use support, as can Salvation Army. It’s a tough year for folks,” Lentz said.

Anyone interested in placing a box at their business to collect toys for either program can contact McMahan for Angel Tree at (231) 796-5597 or Lentz for Gifts for Kids at (231) 796-4312.

Look for announcements of drop-off locations in an upcoming edition of the Herald Review.