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Season of Giving: Toys for Tots donations needed for Beaver County program

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 12:13 p.m.
Sewickley Herald
Beaver County Toys for Tots volunteer Linda McKenzie, at left, of Economy helps Jessica Snyder of Ambridge unload donations from the trunk of her vehicle Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. Snyder's employer, Choice Chiropractic in Moon, collected toys for the organization. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

While many families prepare for festive holiday gatherings, complete with plenty of presents, lavish dinners and new outfits, many other families from around the Sewickley Valley and neighboring communities will struggle to find joy this Christmastime.

But as some struggle this time of year, others are stepping in to help.

In an effort to help make the season at least a little brighter for those in need, the Sewickley Herald is asking readers to contribute to Season of Giving — a holiday season donation effort focused on helping families through a toy collection, clothing drives and food banks — all seemingly necessities during the holiday season.

Cora Pucci knows all about the season of giving.

Pucci and a small group of volunteers organize the annual Beaver County Toys for Tots campaign — an effort that has gotten off to a slow start this year, volunteer Linda McKenzie said.

“We had more toys dropped off by this time last year,” she said.

Already more than 1,200 children are registered for the Beaver County effort, which stretches from as far south as Carnegie; to the Coraopolis, Moon and West Hills area; through the Sewickley Valley; and all of Beaver County.

Despite the slower-than-normal start, parents keep calling asking to be placed on the list, Pucci said.

“We have to tell them no right now because donations are slow at coming in,” Pucci said. “But I keep telling them to check back because I don't want any toys left over.”

Pucci said she isn't sure what might be keeping donations lower this year. More donation boxes than last year are in use at collection sites.

She said she's hopeful a collection pickup planned for Monday will help.

“People think you have until Christmas (to donate), but we don't,” Pucci said. “We need them by (Dec. 15) because that's when we distribute the toys.”

Toys are collected through Dec. 14.

Among drop-off sites for the Beaver County Toys for Tots is the Prudential Preferred Realty office, 421 Broad St., Sewickley, where Eileen Maranuk oversees the the office's annual collection.

“We're happy to do anything we feel is a worthy cause — especially one that helps kids,” Maranuk said. “Christmas is for them more than anything.”

Toy donations mean a great deal to kids, but also help parents, she said.

“Many parents don't want to stress their kids with knowing they can't afford gifts, but they stress themselves wondering how they'll come up with gifts,” Maranuk said. “They may go without something for themselves just to buy a gift.”

Last year, the Beaver County Toys for Tots campaign supported 3,649 children, according to campaign records.

Pucci collected nearly 14,800 items — toys, books and stocking stuffers — for 2011.

The effort also raised more than $11,800.

While donations fulfilled requests last year, the organization stopped accepting children between 14 and 18, Pucci said.

“I know there's a lot of kids that are going to miss out this year, but it was hard getting toys for them,” Pucci said. “If we could have bought them clothes or DVDs or video games, it would have been easier.”

With 360 donations left over from last year, the group essentially rebuilds its inventory every season beginning around Oct. 31, McKenzie said.

She will take over coordinating responsibilities for next year and already said she is concerned about providing toys.

Hoping to have enough toys isn't the only problem facing Beaver County Toys for Tots volunteers, though.

This year's location at 916 Merchant St., Ambridge, is the group's third spot in as many years.

“My biggest fear is not being able to find a location and not having the volunteers,” McKenzie said. “Even the toys. Who says they're going to come every year?”

Offering the group space this year is Jim Sangermano, who said he hopes to make it an annual experience in his building, which includes a second-floor warehouse where most donations are sorted and organized by age group.

“It's a great cause,” he said. “I never believed this operation was this big. The logistics of it is unbelievable.

“I was just glad I was able to help them.”

When Pucci took over several years ago, the local campaign was on the verge of ending.

McKenzie said without the program, kids wouldn't be able to enjoy Christmas.

“I know when I was down and out, it helped us,” she said. “My kids wouldn't have had anything for Christmas. There are a lot of kids that need it.”

Pucci said she likes being able to volunteer her time for the campaign.

“There are a lot of people who are very, very grateful,” she said. “Sometimes this is their only hope for a nice toy. For some, it might be their only toy.”

Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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