There may be over 1,000 children in northern Michigan without any gifts on Christmas morning if more toys and monetary donations are not received by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 583 of Alpena.
Volunteer Coordinator Michael Jackson said since the veterans began the Toys for Kids program in 1993, he cannot remember having such a need for donations. He said although the veterans have received thousands of gifts so far, the names of children who need gifts keep flowing in. The only problem is there are not enough toys to go around.
"Over one thousand names need to be filled," Jackson said.
Jackson said the shelves of their headquarters in the Alpena Mall are almost bare, and the need for donations is almost overwhelming. Jackson said the veterans began collecting gifts and monetary donations in October, and now they are at a standstill with the lack of toys. As of 1 p.m. on Monday, Toys for Kids had about $200 to purchase gifts, and volunteers were sent home because there was no work to be completed.
Jackson said he thinks the increase in names and the decrease in the amount of donations is all based on the state of the economy. He said families are seeking more assistance because "there's no place to work."
Jackson is making his last pitch to get people to donate to Toys for Kids. He said he hopes the community opens their hearts to give to the veterans or the Toys for Kids program may come to a complete halt. People who wish to donate gifts can drop them off at their headquarters in the Alpena Mall or call for further information.
"It isn't important who gives; it's important that there is not one kid who does not get anything for Christmas," Jackson said.
There are hundreds of families who are receiving assistance from the veterans. However, there are several children in each family, so the numbers are more overwhelming than they seem. Jackson said he and the other volunteers have encountered situations where there are several families living in one home because of the harsh economy. He said all those families are seeking assistance, and the veterans are willing to help all of them.
Jackson said on average, the veterans like to make sure each child on the list receives 5-6 gifts. He said the families who have received gifts so far have gotten the 5-6 gifts per child, but the names of children who have not been given gifts may only get what is available.
"We are trying to help everybody," Jackson said.
The list of names of children keeps growing with churches, neighbors, family, schools, and friends requesting that certain children receive gifts. He said the veterans will continue to take names of children who are newborn to 18 years old until Wednesday and will accept gifts as long as there are people who are willing to donate.
"It all comes from the community; we don't get any assistance from any organizations," Jackson said.
There are about 2,000 people who volunteer their time for the Toys for Kids program. He said there are volunteers who give names, wrap gifts, take inventory, fill boxes, deliver the toys, and countless others who make the program run. He said the volunteers also check with other gift-giving organizations to make sure there are not children who are getting gifts from more than one organization.
Jackson said he is thankful for what the community already has given. He does not think people realized how much of an undertaking the program is. He said last year, $100,000 in gifts and monetary donations were accounted for. The Toys for Kids program is a huge community undertaking.
"It's an entire community taking care of itself," Jackson said.
The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 583 Toys for Kids headquarters is located in the Alpena Mall across from Glicks, and can be reached at 354-2000.
Erika Fifelski can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5688.