Outpouring of gifts wows groups

LAKE STEVENS – Although the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program is far short of its usual stock of donated toys, a community outpouring has ensured that several agencies that depend on the program can provide children with toys this holiday season.

Among those agencies are the Lake Stevens Family Center and St. Vincent de Paul in Everett.

“I’m just overwhelmed,” said Kathleen Friend, program manager at the family center. “We’re good. We actually got enough that we’re now helping out some of our sister family support centers.”

The Lake Stevens center and St. Vincent de Paul received word from Toys for Tots officials that its warehouse was empty. But people and businesses pitched in to help. The family center received about 700 toys – along with $6,415 to provide toys, holiday dinners or “Christmas wishes” for local families – $500 for Toys for Tots, $500 for the Lake Stevens Food Bank and $11,950 to support families or fill gaps in the center’s programs and services.

“I was in shock,” Friend said.

Owners Mike Kinney and Peter Wheeler of Pacific Ridge Homes in Everett donated $10,000, Friend said. The men told Friend they’d like to help out again next year, only start earlier and challenge other businesses to match them, she said.

“You don’t know what a blessing that is. Usually, I’m worrying about how I’m going to keep people here doing the work that we do,” she said.

The center now is helping the South Everett Neighborhood Center, Familias Unidas in Everett and the Family Support Center of South Snohomish County in Lynnwood to provide gifts.

Sgt. Nathan Miller, a Fort Lewis soldier with the Toys for Tots program, said the Marine Corps has 367 toy donation barrels out in the greater Seattle area and more than 300 in the Tacoma area, but many have few toys in them.

The Everett Events Center in downtown Everett also has a donation barrel on the main floor office on the Hewitt Avenue side off Broadway, said Kevand Topping, events center concierge. It will be collecting toys from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Usually, the program has 170,000 toys to hand out for the year, but so far this year it has gathered only 40,000 to 50,000 toys. Workers had to call at least 60 agencies that usually receive toys and delay or cancel the deliveries.

“As soon as we get them, we’re filling orders and they’re going out the door” to 354 organizations, Miller said. “By this point, we should have maybe given out 130,000 and had maybe 40,000 more to go. It just hasn’t happened. We had to cancel some every day this week.

“We’ve got some media attention, and people are really stepping up. Hopefully, we can make up some ground here,” he said.

The Washington Pilots Association is doing what it can to help. On Saturday, pilots will fly Marines to nine airports in the region to pick up donation barrels and fly them to a distribution center, said the association’s Colleen Turner.

Jim Kehoe, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, rallied after learning his agency would get no toys, and his staff began making calls.

They called Jeff Brotman, Costco’s chief executive officer, and the company gave them toys and a cash card to shop for more. In addition, National Industrial Concepts in Woodinville came through with 2,000 toys.

“We’re so delighted. I can’t even express it. I’m in shock right now,” Kehoe said.

Officials say there have been so many emergencies this year, including the tsunami, hurricanes, floods and other disasters, that resources have gone elsewhere and donations have been less than normal.

In addition to agencies that give out toys, Christmas House provides gifts directly to families, including presents for about 8,000 children each year.

The privately funded charity distributes gifts at the Everett Boys &Girls Club, 2316 12th St. Recipients must be Snohomish County residents, have children 18 or younger in their custody, have a household income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, and must provide proof of income and custody.

Details of the Christmas House program are available at http://christmas-house.org.

Reporter Cathy Logg: 425-339-3437 or logg@heraldnet.com.

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