Families were able to have their Christmas made a little easier thanks to the Heartland United Way and United States Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots distribution Monday.
More than 2,500 families from Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties made their way to the Pinnacle Bank Expo Center to choose from a variety of items including toys, books, clothes, stuffed animals, board games and homemade quilts to give to children as Christmas gifts.
Cammie Benson, director of community engagement for Heartland United Way, said the Heartland United Way and the Marine Corps have done the toy distribution annually for more than 20 years. She said the organization opened this year’s online application for families on Oct. 1. After families applied, the United Way verified their need and they were sent a letter to come to the distribution at a designated time Monday.
“They (families) come here (Pinnacle Bank Expo Center) and we pair them with a volunteer we call their ‘personal shopper,’” Benson said. “They pick out toys, a board game for the family and some stuffed animals. Families just come here and shop.”
During the distribution, she said, families were escorted around the tables filled with toys and the other various items to collect in bags for their children. Benson said each family was able to pick out two toys per child this year.
Benson said the toys were collected from various community drives held from the beginning of November through mid-December. She said toys were collected at both the United Way office and at HobbyTown USA.
“We also worked well with our pacesetter businesses like CNH Industrial and Chief Industries. A lot of those big businesses did internal toy drives, so we got a lot of toys from our pacesetter businesses,” Benson said. “We also work with the Marines Corps in Omaha and we probably get half of the toys we distribute from them.”
Benson said the United Way and the Marine Corps continue to get more and more toy donations every year. She credits this to more people recognizing Toys for Tots and the fact that the toys are distributed to local families in need.
“I think this makes an impact, especially with the flooding that happened this year,” Benson said. “Some of those expenses are going toward home repairs and might dip into their holiday budget. There is a need out there; we see it at our office daily. We just hope this can take one burden away from the family to help with the holidays.”