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Area first responders shop for Toys for Tots

| Friday, Dec. 16, 2011

Local police officers, firefighters, EMS personnel, U.S. Marines and bikers went on a holiday shopping spree for a good cause.

They were shopping for toys for children in need on Thursday morning at the Wal-Mart in North Versailles Township for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.

"The holiday season is always an important time for the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office to reach out to less fortunate families," county Sheriff William P. Mullen said. "We hope the program affects far more than the families gifted with presents for their children. We hope all participants are drawn to a deeper, more rewarding sense of community during what can be a difficult time of year."

"It's a very worthwhile endeavor and I'm glad my police department is involved," North Versailles police Chief Vincent DiCenzo Jr. said. "A lot of my officers " me included " participated in the Toys for Tots motorcycle drive in September."

The money used to purchase the toys was raised through the 22nd annual Western PA Pittsburgh Toy Run on Sept. 11. Funds were raised by motorcyclists donating to participate in the run.

"The money raised goes to charities in Southwestern Pennsylvania," said John Bumba, president of the toy run. "In addition to Toys for Tots, we raise money for Westmoreland County Children's Bureau."

The bike run raised a little more than $5,000, and $3,300 of that was used for Thursday's Toys for Tots purchases. The remaining funds will go to the children's bureau.

Wal-Mart also donated a generous amount for Toys for Tots.

After the toys were purchased Thursday morning, they were loaded into a military vehicle to be taken to the Naval Operations Support Center in North Versailles Township.

Marine Corps Forces Reserve Sgt. Ron Strang said the toys are distributed to area non-profit organizations to give to local families and at open house events.

"We're one of the largest distribution centers on this side of the country," he said.

While the county sheriff's office did its own similar program, Tree of Hope, for numerous years, it partnered with the Marines for distribution and collection of toys during the past few years.

"Allegheny County Wal-Marts have helped us financially, not only by opening their doors to let us shop, but by giving us financial aid through grant monies," county Deputy Sheriff Jason Tarap said. "The grant money is utilized to purchase toys to provide a needy family a Merry Christmas."

He said the North Versailles Wal-Mart was chosen this year because of the outreach of the township police.

"We're happy to have them here this year," said Melissa Held, manager of the North Versailles Wal-Mart. "It's great for the community and the associates involved. It's nice to give something back."

"There's a lot of children out there whose parents are on hard times and their parents don't have money to fulfill their children's dreams," Bumba said. "It's important for us to make sure every kid can have a good Christmas."

Those participating in Thursday's Toys for Tots event were Allegheny County Sheriff's Office, North Versailles police, Fire Department of North Versailles, Marine Corps, Allegheny County Housing Authority police, Wal-Mart employees and the toy run committee.

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