Toy donation programs were affected by Hurricane Sandy throughout the region, increasing the number of families in need while decreasing the number of sponsors and drop-box locations available.
"Some of our donors will be the ones receiving toys this year" because of the storm, said Frank Vesely, coordinator of the Cape-Atlantic Marine Corps League's Toys for Tots program.
The Marine Corps League program, as well as the Fraternal Order of Police New Jersey Lodge No. 112 Atlantic County Toys for Kids program, have seen a significant decrease in donations post-storm.
"A lot of our sponsors were hit or are under water, but we are doing the best we can," said Michelle Riordan, event coordinator and vice president of the Atlantic County Toys for Kids Program. Toy donations are running about 50 percent behind last year, she said.
After the storm, some businesses have reached out and requested to be a drop-box location. This has helped increase the total number of locations, Riordan said. The two weeks following Thanksgiving are usually when there is a stronger response from donors, she added.
"So many people are so inundated with how to survive, they don't even know where to go. Right now they are worried about their shelter and clothing and food," she said.
The Marine Corps Toys for Tots program was affected before the storm, though. A theft of about 12 boxes worth of donations from a trailer was the first setback during the summer. Although a suspect was charged with the crime, none of the donations were recovered, Vesely said.
Effects of the storm include the cancellation of conventions in Atlantic City, which has left the storage location about half full, in comparison to the quantity this time last year, Vesely said.
The New Jersey Teachers Convention and the League of Municipalities, which took place at the city's Convention Center as well as in casinos and hotels in the surrounding area, were canceled this year. The impact is a loss of about 40 percent of the annual donations, Vesely said.
"We usually rely on the conventions and casinos," he said. "The shelves are pretty bare."
Help from local municipal officials and police departments have helped the group successfully target some of the communities in need, Riordan said.
Last year, Toys for Tots helped 900 families and donated about 22,000 toys, Vesely said. "This year we'll have it the other way around - 22,000 families and 900 toys."
But both program coordinators are hopeful that those who can help, will.
Successful pre-storm fundraisers have also helped keep the program afloat, Riordan said.
Drop boxes are still available to be placed, Vesely said."So far there has been a good response, but we are holding our breath to see what happens," Vesely said.
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To volunteer to host a Toys for Tots drop box, contact Frank Vesely at 609-868-0003 or at email@example.com