Toys for Tots searching for a larger ‘North Pole’

Christmas in July is a sales gimmick, a way to lure shoppers with summer deals. For Mary Butler, it’s Christmas all year long.

This July, there’s a big item on her wish list.

Butler is campaign coordinator for the local Toys for Tots organization. The U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation-South Snohomish County provides holiday toys for families in need from the Smokey Point area to the King County line. “People think in December it miraculously appears. To get the best deals, we have to start earlier in the year,” she said. “We have started for December.”

What’s on her wish list is a large space — a building or part of one — that can be used to store toys and distribute them to individuals and agencies near the holidays. Right now, Butler has new toys stashed in friends’ garages.

“We had such an outpouring of support last year, and such an increase in demand, that we need a larger space, and longer access to space,” she said.

The past three years, Toys for Tots used a basement at the back of the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on Oakes Avenue in downtown Everett. The charity used the space rent-free the first two years. Last year, Toys for Tots wanted the space Oct. 1 through the end of December, a longer period than before, and paid a fee.

The ideal space, Butler said, would be in central Snohomish County — Toys for Tots serves some Naval Station Everett families — and would be “warehouse-like,” with electricity, running water and a restroom. Furniture isn’t needed. Good security, parking, proximity to a bus line, and daily access also are needed.

The best-case scenario, “we’re hoping not to have to pay rent,” Butler said. “Any rental fee cuts into toys we can buy. We’re looking for a donation.”

Toys for Tots is a longtime charity of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. In 2011, the local Toys for Tots provided 42,696 toys to 21,013 children. “I can’t even fathom that,” Butler said. “This year, we’ve already started getting requests.”

Applications for help getting toys are made online, starting Oct. 1. That used to start in November, but with the troubled economy demand has been high. Applications come not only from individuals, but from nonprofit groups that hold holiday parties or sponsor families at Christmas.

“I’ve had to shut applications down until I knew I had enough toys to meet the need,” Butler said.

Along with Naval Station Everett and nonprofit agencies, Toys for Tots serves some parents being helped by the state Department of Social and Health Services. But income requirements aren’t strict, Butler said.

“Some working families are just struggling,” she said. “Think of having the option of paying your rent or buying something for your child at Christmas. Who wants to have to make that decision? We leave the door open for those people who are struggling.”

Toy drives, where people donate new, unwrapped toys, are held in the weeks leading up to the holidays. “Walmart, Cabela’s and Starbucks are going to help with events in November,” Butler said. She also does lots of bargain shopping throughout the year, using money donated to Toys for Tots.

At the start of last year’s holiday season, Butler said the local Toys for Tots had about $18,000 available from donations. “Going into this year, we have $1,200,” she said. “We need some shopping money. The deals out there are amazing.”

Last year, Butler said, some fathers came in saying they had just lost jobs. They left with toys in their arms, one man with tears in his eyes.

“To hear, ‘All my daughter wanted was a Barbie doll,’ and then you hand him a Barbie doll — that’s because of the generosity of people who donate,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

How to help

Toys for Tots

The Toys for Tots organization in Snohomish County needs a larger space for storage and distribution of toys given out during the holidays. The organization serves communities between Smokey Point and the King County line. To discuss a location or make a donation, contact Mary Butler: mebutler@comcast.net or 425-344-0359.

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