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Toys for Tots aims for 10,000 gifts in county

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 8:54 p.m.

On Christmas morning, more than 2,500 children will find toys and gifts under their tree thanks to the generosity of Westmoreland County residents.

Organizers of the Westmoreland Toys for Tots program hope to collect at least 10,000 toys for children as young as infants and as old as 12 by next week. In its 17th year in Westmoreland County, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation provides toys and gifts for children in families struggling financially.

“We want to make sure there's something under the tree for every child,” said Dennis Blank, logistics coordinator for the organization. “Every child should have a gift — that's been our motto from the start.”

The group hosted its first Stuff-a-Bus event at the Chick-Fil-A at Greengate Mall on Saturday, where a bus was filled with 1,248 toys. Locally, there are 26 drop-off points in Murrysville, Export and Delmont for Toys for Tots this year. While collections are on track to make sure each child has four or five gifts, Blank said he and other volunteers still will have to buy additional toys and gifts.

Most of the donations they receive are appropriate for children age 2 to 9, Blank said. That leaves a void in donations for older children and babies

Typically, several volunteers will spend several thousand dollars on toys for infants and children ages 9 to 12, Blank said.

“We have to buy for those age groups almost every year,” Blank said.

“If someone is going to target an age group, that's where we need the most help. We figure parents take younger children to shop for a toy and they pick something they'd like.”

Gifts for older children often are more expensive, Blank said.

That is one reason younger children registered for Toys For Toys receive more gifts than older children, Blank said — those ages 9 to 12 typically receive two or three larger gifts, he said.

“These people just don't have the money for toys at all,” Blank said.

“We have people who come down to pick up their toys and walk out crying.

“There's a real need for people who don't have the wherewithal to provide this for their kids. They say there would be nothing at all under the tree if not for us.”

Blank said the group will collect toys from drop-off sites next week and sort the donations at the Toys for Tots' Youngwood facility for each of the more than 1,000 families it will help.

Toys will be distributed Dec. 22.

Blank said he consistently is amazed at the generosity of people in Westmoreland County.

“Every time you talk to someone, they say they'll help you in some way,” Blank said.

“The local support is better than you'd ever imagine. We couldn't do this without it.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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