Halloween treats are hardly stale and stores are just beginning to put out cranberry sauce. But some families in Knox and Waldo counties are already fretting about how they can afford to put presents under the tree next month.
But last week, Emmi and Robert Clark, who volunteer for Toys for Tots, started putting out boxes at more than 85 locations across the midcoast for people to donate unwrapped toys. Families in need can go online and fill out an application to receive approximately three of the donated toys per child, plus stocking stuffers.
Emmi Clark will look at the application and call the family to talk about what their needs are.
“We’ve never turned anyone down,” Emmi Clark said.
Last year people donated some 2,500 toys, which added to the $7,000 worth of toys given to the area from the national Toys for Tots nonprofit.
“Altogether we probably put out around $23,000 or $24,000 worth of toys,” Emmi Clark said recently.
According to Robert Clark, who helps organize the local effort, many families could use the help.
“The need is really great out there,” he said. “There are people out of work. There are people who would normally get along fine, but in this economy they can’t make ends meet.”
The Clarks have been doing the work for eight years, and Robert said the past two years have been particularly difficult times for local families, especially in Waldo County.
For the first time in eight years, the Clarks will not keep the toys in their own garage — usually filled wall-to-wall with the donations. A Thomaston church has volunteered space for what will look like Santa’s workshop.
Many local businesses and the Knox-Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District in Warren will help fill the church basement.
Kathy Ward, who works for the soil district, asked that her supervisors let her put a Toys for Tots box in the office a few years ago.
“There are some things they can’t say no to me about,” Ward said, laughing. “We’re going to do it every single year.”
Ward is a sort of toy warrior. She has her family from all over the United States ship her toys for needy Waldo and Knox county kids. She has her own box in her car full of her toys, even though she has her own children and young grandchild to shop for.
“I think it’s very worthwhile. I love doing it,” Ward said. “If I see toys or if I see clothes or if I see a book an older kid might enjoy [I get them] — because it’s not just for the tiny ones.”
In fact, Emmi Clark said, gifts for teenagers are the most difficult orders to fill.
“They’re very hard to please, and they’re very expensive,” Clark said. “A lot of the girls want jewelry and that type of thing.”
For more information, including how to get a box, where to donate or how to request toys, visit toysfortots.org.