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Toys for Tots seeks more donations after local requests jump significantly

The number of families signed up for the local Toys for Tots program has jumped beyond expectations and coordinators hope to get more donations of gifts and money.

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The number of families signed up for the local Toys for Tots program has jumped beyond expectations and coordinators hope to get more donations of gifts and money.

"We knew that requests were going to be up, but we did not know to this extent," said Pat Berger, president the area United Way, which coordinates the program.

Last year, the program served 196 families with 479 children, according to Berger. This year, applications came from 352 families with 747 children.

"This was a big jump. This was a surprise," she said.

Toys for Tots is a charity of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve that collects donated toys to give to children in poverty at Christmas. According to the United Way, the local program serves children 12 and younger whose families are in an assistance program such as food stamps or reduced school lunches and are referred by social service agencies.

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Registration for this year's program has ended, but United Way has a waiting list for more families.

Help wanted

The United Way needs more donations to meet the additional requests. Berger said she would like to get 100 to 150 large toys.

Toys for Tots will start giving away toys Dec. 18. It will give one small toy and one larger toy for each child. Coordinators also use donated money to buy toys for the program.

Information on collection sites for donated toys and information on how to give money is on the United Way's website below.

Berg said the agencies that refer families to the program do not describe the participants' situations, but she hears anecdotes from people who call to ask how to sign up. "That's when we hear the stories."

More needs

She believes that the number of families looking for assistance is growing because many living on the edge of poverty are struggling to pay for higher costs of living.

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"Unfortunately, if your family was right on that cusp of barely making the bills every month, life is not so good," she said.

Berger said that the program was expanded to include children of locked-out employees of American Crystal Sugar, but only 17 families from that group are signed up.

According to North Dakota Kids Count, which studies the status of children, 16.1 percent of children 17 and younger in the Grand Forks metro area lived in poverty in 2009. The numbers for Fargo and Bismarck were 11.7 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively. Grand Forks' number is up from 12.9 percent in 2000 and 12.5 percent in 1990.

Of the 196 families registered this year, not all will come to get toys, but the percentage that does show up has increases in recent years, Berger said.

Online: For more information, see United Way's website www.unitedwaygfegf.org .

Reach Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 117; or send e-mail to cbjorke@gfherald.com .

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