It's crunch time for the volunteers who organize the Marine Toys for Tots program in Jamestown as they sort and display thousands of toys before the planned distribution on Dec. 14.
The basic mission of the Marine Toys for Tots Program is to collect new unwrapped toys and distribute those toys to less fortunate children at Christmas. The program encourages parents or guardians to select the toys and then wrap and present the gifts to their children.
"We're spending lots of time getting ready," said Sheila Ova, organizer of the program in Jamestown. "We're getting set up, we're trying to organize food for our volunteers. There is a lot to do."
The Toys for Tots program has had collection boxes at about 25 locations around Jamestown as well as in Valley City and Carrington. Ova and her daughter, Mona Elsner, have begun collecting the items and sorting them by gender and age for ultimate distribution.
"We can't do this without the community," Ova said.
Ova said they haven't taken the time to count the donated items but estimate it is "in the thousands." The items are supplemented by toys purchased locally with cash donations and items supplied by national sponsors to make sure there is a good selection of gifts for both genders and all age groups.
"The teenage group and the newborn through 2 years are the groups we struggle with," Elsner said, because they receive the fewest donations from the public.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, the toys will be on display for distribution at the Anne Carlsen Center. Parents are asked to schedule a time to meet with the volunteers and select the gifts. Parents can select one gift, usually valued at about $25, and a stocking stuffer for each child. They also select a game or puzzle for the family to share.
"We reach out to about a 60-mile radius," Ova said. "It is for families with financial hardship with children from newborn to 18 years of age."
The number of families in need grows every year, Elsner said. In 2016, Toys for Tots provided assistance to 116 families, according to a 2017 Jamestown Sun article.
"Last year we were about 200 families and 500 kids," Ova said, referring to the 2018 distribution. "I think we'll be up to about 250 families this year."
Parents can reserve a time to select gifts by calling Ova at 952-3603. Monetary donations can be made by mailing a check made out to Marines Toys for Tots to Sheila Ova, 216 9th Ave. NE, Jamestown, ND 58401.