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Toys for Tots helps families celebrate the holidays

Thousands of children will have presents to unwrap thanks to the annual Toys for Tots program.

Tables full of toys, stuffed animals, games and books were set up Thursday at Fonner Park’s Pinnacle Bank Expo Center that served as the distribution site for the program. There, parents were able to select a few items as Christmas presents for their children.

“This helps a lot,” said parent Edith Hernandez.

The Grand Island woman was looking for gifts for three of her children ages 9, 10 and 12. She has utilized Toys for Tots a few times before.

“Without it, it would be hard,” she said of having gifts for her family.

About 2,300 children from 950 families were registered for the program this year. Families have to apply and be approved for Toys for Tots, which is a program offered through the United States Marines and is overseen locally by the Heartland United Way.

Last year, about 1,900 children in Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties were served through Toys for Tots. The number was up this year, but donations were down a bit, said United Way Volunteer Coordinator Cammie Benson.

With fewer donations parents might not have been able to get as much for each child as in previous years, but they still walked away with several gifts to give. Parents were allowed to choose one toy, board game, blanket or coat, stuffed animal, stocking stuffer and book or puzzle for their child.

Volunteer shoppers helped lead parents around to each of the tables where the unwrapped gifts were laid out.

Jamie Flores was helping for a second year. She was carrying a large plastic bag that was mostly full of toys for Hernandez.

Flores said she wanted to volunteer again because she sees a need for the program. Being involved also makes her feel good knowing that the program helps local and area families.

“It’s fun to know that the kids are going to have a good Christmas that they otherwise might not have had,” she said.

Amber Roberts of Grand Island said the holiday season can be a struggle financially. She has been using Toys for Tots off and on since her 12-year-old son was born. She was finding gifts for him and two other children ages 10 and 5.

“This goes from Santa to my kids so then they don’t feel like they are left out because the stuff that I buy is smaller. They think that they’ve scored because Santa brought them the good stuff,” she said.

Toys for Tots has been held in Grand Island for at least 20 years.

Benson said she hopes that it brings awareness to the community that there are people going through a difficult time, especially during the holidays.

There have been families utilizing the program because they’ve had hardships.

“We’ve had people say they just lost their job around Thanksgiving and they didn’t know how they were going to pay for things,” Benson said.

The program is there to provide a little help and relief.

“I hope they know we will be here and will be hosting Toys for Tots as a way for them to get that extra weight lifted off their shoulders during the holidays,” Benson said.

By Julie Blum  Dec 20, 2018