PUNXSUTAWNEY — In what has become an annual happening, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Ebensburg Unit and Community Action, Inc. are once again teaming up to put together this year’s Toys for Tots drive.
FEMCO Machine Company became a partner in the campaign last year, and this year will be no different with FEMCO and Chambers Replacement World also assisting with the drive.
Janeen Love, who works as a project director with Community Action, Inc., said that the organization’s involvement with Toys for Tots is based on a need in the county to ensure that children feel loved at all times, but especially in this season with this project.
"Community Action tries to get involved in the community to help those in need," she said. "Helping the children is very important to all of those on staff here. We've been sponsoring it for the Marine Corps for a number of years — at least 12 now — and it's just something we think is very important."
Beginning Thursday, area families who are eligible can register their children, ages 12 and under at one of the four sign-up sessions.
The four sessions will take place:
• Thursday, Nov. 1 from 9 a.m. to noon at Community Action Inc., 105 Grace Way, Punxsutawney
• Monday, Nov. 5 from 9 a.m. to noon at The Foundry, Main Street, Reynoldsville
• Wednesday, Nov. 7 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Brockwayville Depot, 4th and Alexander streets in Brockway.
• Thursday, Nov. 8 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Heritage House, 4 Sylvania St. in Brookville.
FEMCO’s marketing director Thom Pratt said that the company’s interest in assisting with Toys for Tots started at the top with CEO Dan Rondeau, who has long been a passionate advocate of the program and its work in this area.
“Last year, our CEO got us involved,” Pratt said. “He’s a big supporter of Toys for Tots. We started our involvement last year; it was pretty successful, and we had our entire waiting room downstairs filled up with toys.”
FEMCO became the official drop site for toys last year, and Pratt said the response was so overwhelming that the toys filled the front room at the office. Even with last year’s success, though, he admitted they’re hoping for even bigger things this year.
“We started a bit late, but we still had a great turnout,” he said. “This year, we’re hoping to kick it up a few notches.”
While the sign-up sessions are beginning for eligible families, Pratt and Love also said that the time for donations is quickly coming as well, with FEMCO planning on unveiling the Gingerbread House, a building dedicated solely to dropping off toys throughout the duration of the campaign. Hours of operation for the Gingerbread House will be Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Toy dropoff is expected to begin in early November.
“Last year, we collected toys at the Home for the Holidays Parade, but this year we’ll be doing things a bit differently,” Pratt said. “We plan on using the Gingerbread House, which will be parked in the parking lot in front of the building here. That’ll be the official drop-off location. It looks pretty good from what we’ve seen so far, and hopefully, we’ll have a big kickoff event planned for it.”
The reason for the new location formed out of the tight operating quarters last year, Pratt said.
“What happened last year is we had so many folks coming in that it was tough to keep it all organized,” he said. “So, this year, we’re providing a specific spot where we can make it most effective.”
Pratt also said the Gingerbread House project had plenty of support from other local volunteers.
Becky Heitzenrater was designing the house, with Jerry McAdoo, Bill Clemento and Dan Tyger assisting by building the house. Chris Shuss planned the decorating, and Jeff Curtis worked on the electric. Tim Chambers, of Chambers Replacement World, was donating the lumber for the project.
FEMCO will be the main dropoff site this year, as it was last year, but Love said there will also be a number of other sites where county residents can make donations to the Toys for Tots campaign including:
• Punxsy: Jefferson County Housing Authority; Dollar General; Punxsy Senior Center; Play House Daycare; County Market; First Commonwealth Bank; Walmart; The Spirit; Pantall Hotel; Advance Auto Parts; Tractor Supply; and FEMCO.
• Reynoldsville: The Foundry; Dollar Store; American Legion; Ridgewood Green
• Brockway: The Brockwayville Depot
• Sykesville: Northwest Savings Bank and the Municipal Building
• Brookville: Aces Hardware; Bill’s Bar; Brookville Chevrolet; Buff’s Ice Cream; the Christian bookstore; Dollar General; Family Dollar; Fox’s Pizza; Jefferson Manor; Kelly’s Chrysler; the Eagles; Matson Insurance; McCabe’s; Means & Lauf; Miller Welding; Plyler’s; Mike’s Comet; the Brookville YMCA; Rebecca M. Arthurs Library; CSA Toys; the Heritage House.
While the most common means of assisting with Toys for Tots is donating toys, Love said, for those who would prefer, cash donations are welcome as well.
Love said that those interested in helping out can also do so with cash donations, if that’s something they’d prefer, at Toys for Tots Foundation, in care of Community Action, Inc., 105 Grace Way, Punxsutawney, PA 15767.
Cash donations will be used to help fill any gaps in gifts, where another gift in a certain category — boy or girl, or certain age group — is needed. Love said the Marines will pitch in to assist in other areas when the funding is needed.
Volunteers are also needed to assist with the distribution and set-up, and Love said if anyone is interested in assisting with that process, they can contact her office at 938-3302 ext. 236.
Jefferson County residents are invited to donate toys to provide a brighter Christmas to needy children across the county, saying a new toy sends "the message that someone cares and they have not been forgotten."
For more information on Toys for Tots or eligibility requirements, please contact Community Action Inc. by calling the number above, or toll free at 1-800-648-3302, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
After the volunteers put in the hard work of sorting the toys and getting them arranged for the eligible children, the toy distribution will be held Friday, Dec. 14 at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"This year, we're holding the event at Gobbler's Knob, and all the kids do have to be pre-registered," Love said. "If there’s a need, we’d love to help. But the pre-registration is very important so we can make sure we cover the needs."