Toys for Tots signs up more families on distribution day

Dec. 18, 2012 @ 12:01 AM

The annual Toys for Tots program distributed toys Saturday at the Pigeon Forge Factory Outlet Mall for over 1,000 families, and it allowed still more families to sign up and receive excess toys later that day.
Most families signed up in November to receive toys at the December distribution day, but last week it became apparent that there would not be enough toys for those families.
Brenda Russell, Toys for Tots coordinator for East Tennessee, made a call to the Toys for Tots Foundation, which arranged to send more toys.
“We were worried because we didn’t have enough toys to fill the bags for the people who signed up, and then ... Toys for Tots Foundation sent us two shipments of toys,” said Ron Russell, Brenda’s husband and commandant of the local Marine Corps League, which organizes the effort. “Now we can fill every bag.”
Funds were down this year, Ron said, and he attributed it to the economy.
“We’ve never been this desperate for toys,” he said. “In all the years we’ve been doing this, this is the first year (we haven’t had enough).”
But with the extra shipments from the foundation, organizers had a surplus of toys, so they spread word that there would be an additional sign-up and distribution process at the end of the normal distribution, around 2 p.m.
Ron estimated that over 1,000 families received toys at the distribution, and that was before the 2 p.m. sign-up and distribution for families that didn’t have the opportunity to or were not able to sign up ahead of time. The line out the door was already long.
“We hate to turn anyone away, so we gave them an opportunity. They’re here, and they’re tickled to death,” Ron said of those signing up Saturday. “The nice part about this is watching the children walk out of here with smiles on their faces.”
Ron and Brenda assured that they would not run out of toys for the late-comers, and there would be toys for everyone.
“We’ve been blessed with a true Christmas miracle,” Ron said.
The day was an emotional payoff for all those involved, as well as the families in need.
“It’s nice to go from stressful to emotional,” Ron said. “It’s a relief and an emotional day that we can just watch everybody enjoy and smile and laugh, and know that we have helped those that are in need. That’s the greatest part.”
• rhargett@themountainpress.com