More than 2,600 recyclable bags of toys, games, puzzles, books and wrapping paper were given away to parents, grandparents and guardians of needy children from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at the Performing Arts Center in Flemington.
According to United Way Liberty County Director Jennifer Darsey, the toys and other items were collected and distributed by 273 local United Way volunteers under the auspices of the Toys for Tots Foundation of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
“We set out the collection boxes in October,” said Darsey, who said this was the first year she’s supervised a local Toys for Tots campaign. “By yesterday afternoon, we had literally filled every classroom, stage and auditorium (at the Performing Arts Center) with toy donations. We collected about 12,000 toys and also about 16,000 books — because we support literacy. When we started the giveaway this morning, we had 100 used and 51 new bicycles, but they were gone quickly.”
Darsey reiterated that every child got a book along with a toy, game or puzzle because the United Way wants to stress the importance of reading. She said applications for the toy giveaway were submitted by needy residents of both Liberty and Long counties beginning Oct. 1. The cutoff date for applications was Dec. 5.
On Saturday, applicants were directed to enter the front of the Performing Arts Center, where they were broken down alphabetically into separate lines. Applicants proceeded to a table of volunteers who checked off each applicant’s name, then passed the applications to other volunteers who prepared the gift bag or bags while the applicant waited outside for his or her name to be called. The last thing added to the gift bags was wrapping paper. Some applicants received several bags, apparently representing several children. Volunteers were available to help applicants carry bags to their cars.
“It’s been amazing,” said Darsey, who commended her volunteers for their dedication and the community for its generosity. “We’ll continue giving away toys until every toy we have has been given away.”
According to its website, the Toys for Tots Foundation’s mission is to collect new, unwrapped toys from October through December and distribute them in the community in which they are collected to children whose parents cannot afford to buy them toys. The Toys for Tots program was started in 1947 by a U.S. Marine Reservist, Maj. William L. Hendricks.
The United Way of the Coastal Georgia Empire Liberty considers itself the go-to organization in Liberty County for educational, health and self-sufficiency needs, according to its website. In addition to the Toys for Tots program, Darsey’s staff and volunteers helped give away more than 20,000 pounds of food last month at Hinesville’s Shuman Center through America’s Second Harvest’s Mobile Food Pantry.
“We’re going to do another food drive this Friday from 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. at the Shuman Center,” Darsey said. “This one was supposed to have been at Walthourville, but they didn’t have a facility big enough for it. We’re doing this one just before Christmas to help make sure needy families have food for Christmas day.”
For more information about the upcoming food drive, call 368-4282.