GENESEE COUNTY — At least 3,000 Genesee County children in need will be serviced through Toys for Tots this year, according to the program’s coordinator, Vicky Muckenthaler.
Toys for Tots started in California in 1947 when a Marine’s wife starting giving handmade dolls to kids on a base, and it began in Genesee County in the late ‘70s. Walt Disney designed the logo.
“I just changed the requirements for sign it to make it a little easier for the clients to sign up last year when I took the program over,” Muckenthaler said.
Another difference in the program compared to previous years is Toys “R” Us is no longer around to take donations for the program. This change has affected other communities more than Genesee County, where the community is highly supportive of the program.
“Genesee County has been hit pretty hard with the water situation and GM moving out,” Muckenthaler said. “But Genesee County is also very good to us in the toy donations and the monetary donations.”
The program would have to close its doors if it lost its volunteers, according to Muckenthaler.
“Without volunteers, we would not be able to help the community,” she said.
There are both front end and back end volunteers. About 15 front end volunteers are office volunteers that do input for clients, verify the clients, do all the necessary paperwork and answer the phone. About 20 back end volunteers work in the toy warehouse sorting toys by age and whether they are for boys or girls, counting and stocking toys and packing toys for clients.
“We never have enough volunteers in Genesee County sadly,” Muckenthaler said. “Getting volunteers is probably the hardest thing about my job. We need more volunteers in the back, especially full time. One or two days a week helps, but we pack a minimum of 125 bags per day in the warehouse. So, that requires a lot of volunteers.”
Muckenthaler said there is a need for toys for older kids.
“Everybody always wants to donate for the 1-5-year-old children,” she said. “We service kids from birth to age 15. We always have to make store runs for the 13-15-year-old age group because we run out of toys for them.”
In addition to the volunteers, Muckenthaler said the people who donate to Toys for Tots are the heart of the operation.
“Toys For Tots is the number one children’s charity, and there’s a reason for that,” she said.
Muckenthaler is able to purchase toys from toy wholesale companies.
“For every $5 you spend on one toy, I can get three or four toys,” Muckenthaler said. “But toy donations and monetary donations are both good. Ninety-seven cents of every dollar we get has to be spent on a toy.”
Each child gets two small toys, two medium-sized toys and one large toy, a book, a plush animal, stocking stuffers and a game. Sign up is available through Dec. 8. Details: toysfortots.org.