Toys for Tots feels loss of Toys ‘R’ Us

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Volunteers from Fort Wayne Metals deliver toys to the Toys for Tots warehouse in Fort Wayne. CONTRIBUTED

The demise of the Toys ‘R’ Us retail chain is having a major impact on this year’s U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots collection drive.

The defunct toy store chain was Toys for Tots largest retail corporate sponsor from 2004 through 2017. Each year, Toys ‘R’ Us stores, including the one that was in Fort Wayne’s Glenbrook Commons, collected cash donations from customers that came to about $5 million nationwide.

The funds were distributed to toy drives across the country. The Fort Wayne chapter usually got about $10,000, said Sunny Helstrom, director of the campaign for Allen, Adams, DeKalb, Huntington, Noble, Steuben and Wells counties.

“Because we were lucky enough to have a Toys ‘R’ Us store store in our area, not only did we get spending money, they were also a toy collection site for us, and we would receive 300 to 400 toys a year from that location,” Helstrom said.

Nationally, Toys ‘R’ Us collection boxes account for about 200,000 toys donated per year.

Toys ‘R’ Us ran a national campaign promoting Toys for Tots each year, using a celebrity spokesperson, that promoted the toy drive and especially the cash donations. “Having that money allowed me at any time in our campaign to go to Toys ‘R’ Us and purchase the exact items I needed for the exact ages — boys or girls,” Helstrom said.

The third way in which Toys ‘R’ Us contributed was through its agreement to donate excess inventory left after Christmas to the local Toys for Tots campaign, giving it a jump start on collections for the next year. Although the number of youngsters served by the seven-county northeast Indiana drive varies, it’s usually between 5,000 and 8,000 children.

There are 809 Toys for Tots campaigns run across the country, 660 of which are civilian. Each year, the drives collectively distribute about 18 million toys to some 7 million disadvantaged children across the country.

“So it was a big hit when Toys ‘R’ Us closed down,” Helstrom said. “Not only does it have a great impact on us locally, but for the agencies or charities they supported, it has a huge impact.”

Toys for Tots took another hit this year when Kroger decided to limit its cash donation collection drives to charities that are food related. It still is the area’s largest collector of donated toys, however, with boxes in stores across the region.

The local campaign also receives toys and/or donations from a number of area businesses that conduct their own drives. Some are internal, relying on donations from workers or members, and others are open to the public. On Dec. 1, for example, Mike’s Carwash locations will donate a portion of the cost of washes to the campaign and also collect donations. On Dec. 7, Auburn Bowl will host a drive. A list of events and collection sites can be found online at ft-wayne-in.toysfortots.org.

Monetary donations may also be made online at the local campaign website, which lists collection box locations for all seven counties as well.

The toy collection drive ends Dec. 7, except at Kroger stores, which will accept donations through Dec. 10. Distribution of the toys also begins Dec. 10.

For more information, email the local drive at fortwaynetoysfortots@gmail.com.

Make a child’s Christmas brighter

Gift collection for the local Toys for Tots campaign continues through Dec. 7. Kroger stores will continue accepting donations through Dec. 10. Distribution of the toys also begins Dec. 10. A list of events and collection sites can be found online at ft-wayne-in.toysfortots.org.

Toys for Tots accepts new toys with a value of $10 or more. The campaign is asking for donations of:

• Toys for newborn through 2 years old for boys and girls

• Toys and other items for 8-14 year old boys and girls

• Chapter books for 7-14 year old children

Here are some suggestions:

• Sleds

• Board games for 10-14 year old children

• Footballs, basketballs, soccer balls and other sport balls

• Bath & Body Works products

• Purses for teens

• Baby dolls

• Puzzles for all ages.

• Arts and crafts

Not needed are donations of Barbie dolls and stuffed animals.

Monetary donations may also be made online at the local campaign website, which lists collection box locations for all seven counties as well. For more information, email the local drive at fortwaynetoysfortots@gmail.com.