Johnstown Independent

Post 254 toy drive serves 170 children this year

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In less three minutes, the toys and other gifts that filled tables at the Johnstown recreation center were gone.

The American Legion Post 254's annual Toys for Tots distribution Dec. 17 resembled the frenzy of a Black Friday sale as parents waited patiently and gazed at specific gifts for their children in need.

Then the search was on.

Nearly 60 families with 170 children will have something under the tree this year.

"With the economy the way it is, I know there are an awful lot of people in dire straits," said Bruce Tolle, Post 254 member and past commander. "I know one person who told one of our members that she didn't know what she would've done for her kids' Christmas without this."

More than two dozen collection boxes were placed in Johnstown-area stores for the annual campaign, which last year helped 130 families.

The post also accepted new or gently used clothing and monetary donations.

"The generosity of the community is overwhelming," Tolle said. "We even had a woman who called and wanted to bring in something after (the event). I told her to save it for next year."

To ensure that gifts and other donated items get to the right people, the post implemented new rules last year. Participants have to bring a photo identification and a water, gas or electric bill to show they live in the Johnstown area.

Residents from Northridge, Alexandria and Croton also were able to participate.

"We had a situation where residents were bringing in large bags, and they would come in and sweep off the table," Tolle said. "No we give residents a bag, but it doesn't take long to empty the tables."

Every participant also received a ticket, which was used to draw for such larger items as bicycles and video games.

Post 254 members have discussed changing the distribution process, but with a small volunteer staff, identifying individual families would be difficult, Tolle said.

Toys for Tots, a national nonprofit charity, was started by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. Local campaigns are conducted in more than 700 communities covering all 50 states. A number of national corporations support the foundation.

The Johnstown campaign is not directly affiliated with the national campaign.

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